Freezing Out Justice

How immigration arrests at courthouses are undermining the justice system

Since President Trump took office last year, immigration enforcement officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have dramatically expanded their presence at criminal and civil courts, including in family, landlord-tenant, and traffic courts across the United States. The presence of these officers and increased immigration arrests have created deep insecurity and fear among immigrant communities, stopping many from coming to court or even calling police in the first place. The impact of immigration enforcement at courthouses greatly undermines the security of vulnerable communities and the fundamental right to equal protection under the law, shared by noncitizens and citizens.

A new and extensive survey conducted jointly by the ACLU and the National Immigrant Women's Advocacy Project (NIWAP) shows that the fear of deportation — magnified by immigration arrests in courthouses since President Trump took office — is stopping immigrants from reporting crimes and participating in court proceedings. This survey is based on responses from 232 law enforcement officers in 24 states; 103 judges, three court staff and two court administrators in 25 states; 50 prosecutors in 19 states; and 389 survivor advocates and legal service providers spread across 50 states. What is clear from the results is that when immigration officers conduct arrests in courthouses, there can be significant damage to the ability of the police, prosecutors, defenders, and judges to deliver justice.

Approximately 22 percent of police officers surveyed reported that immigrants were less likely in 2017 than in 2016 to be willing to make police reports; 21 percent said immigrant crime survivors were less likely to help in investigations when police arrived at the scene of a crime; 20 percent reported that they were less likely to help in post-crime scene investigations; and 18 percent said immigrant crime survivors were less willing to work with prosecutors. Sixty-seven percent reported an impact on police ability to protect crime survivors generally and 64 percent reported an adverse impact on officer safety. More than 50 percent of police surveyed said domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual assault crimes are now harder to investigate because immigrant crime survivors are afraid to seek assistance.

Fifty-four percent of judges participating in this survey reported that court cases were interrupted due to an immigrant crime survivor’s fear of coming to court. Similarly, prosecutors surveyed reported that crimes including domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking were harder to investigate and prosecute because immigrant crime survivors feared immigration consequences if they came forward.

Law enforcement officers, judges, prosecutors and advocates around the country are calling on ICE and CBP to stay away from courthouses so the justice system is accessible to everyone. Courts can’t operate fairly or effectively when people don’t feel safe coming forward. When the federal government insists on conducting immigration arrests in courthouses, it is harder for prosecutors, police, public defenders, and judges to do their job.  This tactic, by instilling fear and essentially excluding noncitizens and their relatives from the courts, threatens constitutional rights, like equal protection and due process, as well as the safety of the broader community.

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