Immigration agents are being told it is official U.S. government policy to capture and detain undocumented immigrants in federal, state and local courthouses.
The new guidelines were reportedly formalized Wednesday. The policy, however, runs counter to concerns raised by civil rights groups; California’s Supreme Court chief justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye; and so-called sanctuary cities, where local authorities do not, as a rule, turn over illegal immigrants to federal officials.
“Courthouse arrests are often necessitated by the unwillingness of jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the transfer of custody of aliens from their prisons and jails,” wrote U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Thomas Homan in the directive, dated January 10, arguing for its necessity.
Courthouses, Homan said, make for ideal places to make arrests because people are screened for weapons on the way in.
The detention of undocumented immigrants in courthouses also happened under the Obama administration. Nevertheless, the Trump administration has been behind an overall surge in the detention of undocumented immigrants.
During the first 100 days following an executive order to bump up immigration enforcement, which Trump signed last year, there was a 156 percent increase in the arrest of undocumented immigrants who did not have a criminal record, compared with the year before. Arrests of those with a criminal record rose 38 percent during the same time.
The new directive tells agents to specifically go after those with criminal pasts, including gang members and those with criminal convictions as well as those who have been ordered to leave the U.S. and people who have re-entered illegally after being deported.
It also tells agents not to arrest family members or friends accompanying the undocumented person they’re targeting, or other undocumented immigrants who are appearing as a witness in a case. Making arrests in family or small claims courts is also out of bounds, the directive said.
“Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws,” said Cantil-Sakauye last March, telling immigration agents to stay out of the state’s courts.
By Graham Lanktree for NEWSWEEK
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