Immigration Arrests at N.J. Courthouses Having a ‘Chilling Effect,’ Attorneys Say

Two months ago, the chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court requested that federal immigration officials stop arresting immigrants suspected of living in the country illegally when they are at courthouses, saying the practice sends a “chilling message” to domestic violence victims and others who need access to the courts.

But attorneys and advocates told lawmakers Monday that the problem is much larger than what Chief Justice Stuart Rabner acknowledged in his letter to John F. Kelly, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The majority of such arrests are not happening in state criminal courts, but rather in and around municipal and family courts.

“It’s not just that someone who’s a major drug dealer is now being arrested inside a courtroom, but it’s people … who have tickets for unlicensed driving and no other offenses other than being here without status,” explained Susan Roy, an officer with the New Jersey chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “So you sort of wonder at this point: Do the ends justify the means?”

Those who testified Monday before the Assembly Judiciary Committee also said the stepped-up immigration enforcement under the Trump administration has interacted with the recent implementation of New Jersey’s bail reform initiative in unexpected ways, putting additional strain on the court system and immigrants alike.

Before Jan. 1, when the criminal justice reforms took effect, people who were arrested would be given bail and, if they could post it, were released quickly.

Under the new system, bail is largely eliminated so that people do not linger in jail awaiting trial for no other reason than being poor. Instead, a judge has to make the decision of whether to release someone based on a risk assessment that must be completed within 48 hours of arrest.

Now, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are more likely to detain undocumented individuals earlier on in the criminal justice process, said Michael Noriega, chairman-elect of the immigration law section of the New Jersey State Bar Association.

By Nicholas Pugliese for North
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