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Retired Judges Call on ICE to Halt Immigration Arrests at Courthouses

A prominent group of former state and federal judges sent a letter to the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), urging ICE to halt arrests at courthouses.

December 12, 2018

68 Former Judges from 23 States Urge ICE Acting Director to Treat Courthouses Like Schools & Hospitals, Where ICE Limits Arrests

Contact: Derek Rosenfeld:, 646–292–8381

Today, a prominent group of former state and federal judges sent a letter to the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), urging ICE to halt arrests at courthouses. In particular, the judges are calling on ICE to add courthouses to its list of “sensitive locations,” where ICE is prohibited from conducting activities like surveillance, apprehensions, arrests, interviews, or searches. The judges calling for this change include 25 former state supreme court justices and 10 chief justices from across the political and ideological spectrum.

“We know firsthand that for courts to effectively do justice, ensure public safety, and serve their communities, the public must be able to access courthouses safely and without fear of retribution,” the judges wrote to ICE’s acting director Ronald Vitiello.

In the last two years, courthouse immigration arrests have grown in frequency. In 2017, immigration advocates, prosecutors, and sitting state chief justices asked the prior ICE director to stop courthouse arrests. ICE responded by formalizing its courthouse arrests policy for the first time, pledging to limit them in some circumstances, but made clear that such apprehensions would continue. At least 23 states have seen courthouse immigration arrests since 2017.

“Following nearly two years of high-profile ICE courthouse activity, only unequivocal guarantees and protections will restore the public’s confidence that it can safely pursue justice in our nation’s courts,” the judges wrote. “We urge you to restore that confidence by adding courthouses to ICE’s list of ‘sensitive locations,’ thereby assuring officers will refrain from courthouse enforcement activities except in exigent circumstances.”

In today’s letter – coordinated in part by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law – the judges wrote those arrests are having a chilling effect, dissuading victims of violence, criminal defendants, and parents seeking to protect their children from seeking protection and justice. Data from cities in California and Texas also show that Latino residents are seeking fewer orders of protection than they have in the past. The trend suggests that in the face of aggressive immigration enforcement, survivors of domestic violence are balancing the fear of an abuser with the fear of ICE. In Brooklyn and Denver, district attorneys acknowledged dropping cases due to witnesses’ fear that cooperating could lead to immigration trouble for them.

For 25 years, ICE has maintained a “sensitive locations” policy to not conduct enforcement activities in places such as schools, hospitals, religious institutions, and public demonstrations. The outspoken group of judges makes clear that so long as courts remain unsafe places for certain communities, justice cannot be fully applied.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that works to reform, revitalize – and when necessary, defend – our country’s systems of democracy and justice.