Immigration officials have showed up at houses, bus stops and convenience stores to detain unauthorized immigrants.
And in the last year, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents have also increased their presence at courthouses, according to multiple reports. The New York Times reported that 87 people were arrested at courthouses in New York City in 2017, and that 13 people have been taken into custody so far this year.
But if federal immigration agents appear at the North Brunswick municipal court, they’ll face a team of volunteer lookouts, ready to alert the area’s unauthorized immigrants to the ICE presence.
The volunteers are members of a “Deportation and Immigration Response Equipo,” or DIRE, a group acting under the organization of outspoken pastor Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale.
Beginning Tuesday, Kaper-Dale said DIRE will stand vigilant in the parking lot of the municipal building any time court is in session.
The team of volunteers, donning yellow vests with DIRE’s hotline information, will monitor docket numbers and witness lists for those at risk of being targeted by ICE.
They will also survey the parking lot for the presence of ICE, distribute informational handouts, and publicize any incidents, volunteer Joel Wattacherio said.
“We’re not here to obstruct justice,” he said. “We’re here to protect the community and eliminate an ominous threat in our parking lots. Our idea is to be a public support.”
North Brunswick is the state’s first municipality welcoming “some level of surveillance outside the courthouse,” said Kaper-Dale, who heads the Reformed Church of Highland Park where three Indonesian immigrants recently left sanctuary.
Kaper-Dale said he worked with town officials to organize the initiative after ICE arrested three unauthorized immigrants in the courthouse parking lot in 2017, and following the agency’s update regarding “sensitive locations.”
Calls to Francis Womack, the North Brunswick mayor, were not returned by late Tuesday afternoon.
Up until January, courthouses were included as sensitive locations where ICE limited its enforcement activities, a list that includes schools, hospitals and houses of worship.
By Sophie Nieto-Muno for NJ.com
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