Prosecutors: Immigration Raids on Courthouses ‘Jeopardize’ Community Safety

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Protest at Long Beach, CA 2013. Photo by united church of christ via Flickr

A week ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided a courthouse in Brooklyn,NY and detained a defendant charged in a domestic violence case.

The Nov. 28 raid and similar actions in New York and elsewhere not only undermine due process for both the victim and the defendant, but also impede our ability as democratically elected officials to fulfill our responsibilities to our communities.

Eric Gonzalez

Eric Gonzalez

Our communities’ public safety is jeopardized when residents are not ensured safety by the very institutions designed to deliver it, and the integrity of our local democracies is weakened when locally elected officials’ discretion is usurped by outside executives.

As current and former local prosecutors, working within these institutions and dedicated to enhancing safety and ensuring fairness for our communities, we believe it is vital for us to oppose any policies and practices that undermine these goals.

This includes standing against harmful federal immigration enforcement tactics that undermine faith in the intent and effectiveness of the legal system and encroach on our role and responsibilities as democratically elected officials.

Across the country, from Brooklyn to Seattle, and communities in between, ICE has targeted places that should be beacons of safety and justice, searching courthouses for people and information, and infringing on the power of locally elected officials to protect the rights of victims, witnesses, and defendants.

In New York alone, ICE arrests have soared by 900 percent this year. The surge of ICE raids and arrests is pushing millions of our neighbors into the shadows and discouraging them from interacting with and putting their trust in the systems that strive to provide safety and due process, and that rely on their engagement for public safety.

Dan Satterberg

Dan Satterberg

Our communities elected us to enhance safety, ensure fairness, and protect those, especially, most vulnerable to harm.

Community members voice these priorities and endow trust in our ability to achieve them through local elections and public dialogue.

ICE’s encroachment into our jurisdictions undermines the will of our communities and jeopardizes our ability to deliver on the agenda on which we were elected, and, ultimately, compromises public safety.

Public safety—prosecutors’ first and foremost goal—depends on public participation. Without the fear of deportation, community members are more likely to play an active role in their neighborhoods; people are more likely to work with law enforcement to prevent and solve crimes; survivors of violence are more likely to report abuse.

This engagement enhances law enforcement’s ability to solve and prosecute crimes, fulfilling our responsibility to, and ultimately strengthening our legitimacy within, the communities we serve. This legitimacy is the foundation on which we justify exercising our legal authority to prosecute and to protect.

Public participation—vital to safety—depends on trust. If community members don’t have faith in the aim and ability of local law enforcement officials and legal institutions to keep them safe, they will avoid rather than engage with our local criminal justice processes.

How does a domestic violence victim weigh her options when she faces the threat of violence in her home and the threat of ICE in her community? How does a child consider reporting abuse if he fears that one or both parents will be deported?

How does a neighbor who is undocumented report a crime that he or she witnesses?

Meg Reiss

Meg Reiss

As prosecutors, it is our job to consider these fundamental questions, and how we can support and build trust with our communities in light of these real fears. With over 50 percent of crimes already unreported, our offices are grappling with how to encourage communities to report crime and trust our ability to provide safety, while there is a present threat of federal immigration enforcement preying on communities.

Communities targeted by ICE raids often have limited access to resources and justice. Pushing them into the shadows inserts further hurdles in their path towards resources, support, and justice.

As the chief local law enforcement officials, prosecutors are accountable for focusing our finite resources on support for our communities and ensuring equal access to justice under the law. We assure communities, including and especially victims of violence, that the courthouse is a place that remedies harm. ICE raids in our courthouses are exacerbating it.

While federal policies seem to have a priority other than public safety— as evident in their impacts that stoke fear and undermine basic rights— we are committed to our communities and their well-being.

While federal policies seem to disregard the integrity of our local democracies – as evident in their encroachment into our jurisdictions – we are committed to community-based accountability of elected officials.

We will continue to use our discretion as locally-elected prosecutors to implement policies and standards that advance our goals of safety and fairness, and we will challenge policies and practices in conflict with them.

Moreover, we will fight for the integrity of our local democratic institutions so that our communities can hold us accountable by the metrics of our mission—safety, due process, fairness—and so that we can exercise our role and responsibility without an external executive overreaching into our homes, our courthouses, our communities.

As prosecutors, we pledge to continue to uphold our responsibilities to our communities, and to partner with our communities and other local criminal justice stakeholders to protect and provide safety and due process for all people regardless of race, religion, nationality, or citizenship.

Eric Gonzalez is the District Attorney for Brooklyn, NY. Dan Satterberg is Prosecuting Attorney for King County (Seattle). Meg Reiss is Executive Director of the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College and a former Nassau County and Brooklyn (NY) Assistant District Attorney. They welcome comments from readers.

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