Immigration Arrests at State Courthouses Are on the Rise in 2017. Here’s Why That’s Dangerous — For All of Us.

One of the most disturbing trends under the Trump administration is the sharp increase in immigration arrests taking place at state courthouses across the country. There have been increasing numbers of reports that Department of Homeland Security agents are staking out people at courthouses in 2017. A Texas domestic violence survivor was arrested when she went to court to obtain a restraining order, and so were a Michigan father in court to seek custody of his children, a Brooklyn father in court for a child support hearing, and a Vermont dairy worker arrested before he could appear for his court hearing.

State supreme court chief justices, state prosecutors, and federal lawmakers have taken action to halt these aggressive tactics. The chief justices of the California and Washington supreme courts have urged DHS to halt immigration arrests at state courthouses. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Sessions swiftly issued a response, chiding the California chief justice for raising her concerns and even suggesting that DHS might actually prefer to make arrests at courthouses.

In response, 12 California prosecutors wrote a letter to Kelly and Sessions stating that courthouse arrests “deter residents concerned about their immigration status from appearing in court — including as crime victims and witnesses — jeopardizing effective prosecution of criminals.” Federal lawmakers in the Senate and House have introduced legislation to designate courthouses as “sensitive locations” where immigration agents should steer clear.

Despite the significant pushback from Congress and the states, DHS has doubled down in defending its policy, as a DHS spokesman stated that crime victims can be suitable targets for courthouse arrest, and Kelly, in testimony before Congress, refused to exempt crime victims from courthouse arrests.

So what’s at stake when DHS agents descend on courthouses to conduct immigration enforcement? There are two major dangers: a threat to public safety and a threat to the Constitution.

The threat to public safety

When DHS arrests a battered woman in court, DHS is directly punishing the victim for seeking help and breaking away from a violent relationship. Not only is DHS punishing this specific victim, DHS is telling all immigrant survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking that they too can be captured if they seek an order of protection.

This chilling effect has been documented all too well in 2017.

In Denver, a city attorney reported that four battered women chose to drop their cases for fear that testifying in court could expose them to deportation. The women dropped their cases after they saw a video of DHS officers in a Denver courthouse waiting to make an arrest.

Similarly, the Los Angeles Police Department chief announced that reports by Latinas of sexual assault and domestic violence have dropped dramatically in 2017 — down 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively — amid concerns that they could risk deportation by interacting with police or testifying in court. The chief explained, “Imagine, a young woman, imagine your daughter,  your sister, your mother — not reporting a sexual assault, because they are afraid that their family will be torn apart.” 

In Houston, the city’s police chief reported that the number of Hispanics reporting rape and violent crime has plummeted by nearly 43 percent and 13 percent, respectively, in 2017. "When you see this type of data, and what looks like the beginnings of people not reporting crime, we should all be concerned,” according to the chief. “A person that rapes or violently attacks or robs an undocumented immigrant is somebody that is going to harm a natural born citizen or lawful resident."

When a sexual assault survivor does not call 911 for fear of deportation, the alleged perpetrator will remain at large and not be brought to justice. When four Denver women decline to testify in court for fear of deportation, the city attorney has no choice but to drop the domestic violence cases and therefore cannot obtain convictions against the alleged perpetrators. The cities of Los Angeles and Denver, indeed all our communities, are rendered less safe when a segment of the populace cannot safely call 911, report a crime, or testify in court. 

Unreported crime threatens us all. When victims and witnesses are afraid to report crimes, it offers a free pass to perpetrators.

The threat to the Constitution

Beyond the public safety dangers, immigration arrests at courthouses also threaten our constitutional rights. The First Amendment protects the right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” and ensures that anyone — including immigrants — can complain to, or seek the assistance of, the government without fear of punishment or reprisal. The Supreme Court has recognized the right to petition for redress of grievances as “among the most precious of the liberties safeguarded by the Bill of Rights … intimately connected, both in origin and in purpose, with the other First Amendment rights of free speech and free press.” 

Immigration arrests at courthouses threaten this right. When DHS agents arrested the Michigan father seeking child custody and the Brooklyn father appearing for a child support hearing, DHS interfered with their access to the courts and justice. And DHS created a culture of fear that will further chill immigrants’ exercise of their rights and access to the courts, as protected by the Constitution. 

In its zeal to deport immigrants at all costs, the Trump administration has pursued an enforcement strategy that endangers public safety and threatens constitutionally protected rights. The ACLU urges DHS to immediately halt immigration arrests at or near courthouses and live up to its mission of safeguarding the homeland and protecting the public. 

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Mike Cappy

The constitution and the laws of the land are clear on the subject of "illegal aliens". What is so hard to understand? If you are in the country illegally you are subject to deportation. It is the duty of every official to uphold the law whether they agree with the law or not.


"Fishing Expeditions" by officials is also illegal under the Title 18 Criminal Code (Color of Law statutes) and it also violates the Oath of Office that every DHS official promised to uphold. The 4th Amendment also outlaws fishing expeditions. Searches must "follow" an actual crime with probable cause or reasonsble suspicion pointing to an individual suspect. The official then has to convince a magistrate judge, under penalty of perjury, and seek permission to perform a search.

Fishing Expeditions are illegal also!

Judi Ivy

It's not hard to understand what the law is. What is not easily understood is why it is now okay to go beyond the law and fail to follow the requirements of the the laws as they are written to find criminals of all races, ethnicities, and religions. Once the law enforcement is told they don't need to follow the laws, this country descends into a police state. Finding the criminal element in our country requires that law enforcement adhere to the requirements of the law so that people who are here as citizens and potential citizens, and even people who are here illegally are not treated inhumanely. Our greatness comes from our ability to restrain ourselves from the abuses of dictatorships.

The Free Texan

This mentality allowed millions of Jews, gays, and others to be murdered by "official law" in Germany. It also allowed the same behavior of "enforce the law" in communist Russia and elsewhere. Following laws blindly without understanding leads to violence, division, and death.

It is the duty of every official to protect the population and innocent from tyranny and harm. Check yourself before you elect the next American Hitler. And no Trump is not Hilter, not all good but not Hitler.


Being a domestic abuser or a rapist is a much more serious and concerning crime than existing within our borders without documents. If we are willing to deport the victims and witnesses willing to step up and put actual criminals away - which means the case will be dropped because they won't be here to testify - just because we don't like them being here, then our priorities are severely out of whack. Putting that actual criminal back on the streets could affect anyone, including someone you care about. Why is THAT so hard to understand?


I bought attention about the incident to ACLU National, but I guess they believed it must be fake news, here is a report that was done about the Jamaican that died under ICE agents that I feel maybe people don't believe deserves attention.

Scott Weil

Until DHS and ICE Agents are criminalized by local and state law enforcement officers, this gestapo force will continue to terrorize our country.

Arm yourself

Yup, arm yourself with heavy weapons to defend your rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


Illegal immigrants have no rights here. I am tired of my taxes paying for their legal If they fear our policing tactics then they need to go back to their own country. Me and others I have spoken with feel much the same way.

I'm illegal

I'm here illegally. I cleaned your pool then fucked your wife. Thanks homeboy. I got paid twice!

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