In the past few weeks, attorneys and prosecutors in California, Arizona, Texas and Colorado have all reported teams of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents — some in uniform, some not — sweeping into courtrooms or lurking outside court complexes, waiting to arrest immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, the Los Angeles Times reports. ICE officials have defended the tactic, saying they make arrests in courthouses only when all other options have been exhausted. Activists, attorneys and prosecutors fear ICE’s increased presence in courthouses could deter other immigrants without legal status from appearing in court to testify as witnesses or answer warrants, which ultimately could endanger prosecutions.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon called ICE’s forays into courthouses “very shortsighted” because some immigrants here illegally will simply avoid court for fear of being arrested. “The chilling impact that has on an entire community is devastating,” he said. ICE directs its agents to avoid making arrests in “sensitive locations,” including schools, places of worship and hospitals, whenever possible, according to Virginia Kice, an agency spokeswoman. That policy does not cover courthouses, Kice said, although agents normally will try to detain people at other locations before entering a courtroom. ICE’s recent action in courthouses has been driven partly by an increase in the number of local law enforcement agencies that refuse to comply with ICE requests to detain suspects in county jails, she said.