Nearly 300 Michigan attorneys and 20 Michigan legal organizations, including the ACLU of Michigan, called Thursday for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop its growing practice of arresting individuals in and around courthouses, warning that the arrests would undermine immigrants’ willingness to report crimes and unfairly limit their access to the justice system.
“How can we expect people to come forward as witnesses to or, worse yet, as victims of crime if they’re afraid that ICE agents will detain and deport them or their family members?” said Michael J. Steinberg, Legal Director for the ACLU of Michigan. “Everyone, regardless of birthplace, deserves the fundamental protections that our courts provide. We are all safer if everyone in our community can report a crime, get a domestic violence protective order, or ask the court to resolve a child custody dispute.”
In a letter addressed to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Detroit-based ICE Field Office Director Rebecca Adducci, the legal organizations and Michigan lawyers warned that arresting people at courthouses “creates a chilling effect on non-citizen victims, witnesses, and family members…” and erodes their faith in the justice system.
“Immigration enforcement in courthouses is counterproductive because it undermines public safety and the principle of access to justice for all,” the letter reads.
In decrying the courthouses arrests, the letter cites the ordeal of Sergio Perez Garcia, a father who was arrested by ICE agents in family court when he appeared to petition for custody of his children. Garcia went to court because he feared his children were living in dangerous conditions with his estranged wife.
Although he has no criminal record, Garcia was deported to Mexico following his arrest, separating him from his three U.S. citizen children. “Such arrests have sent shock waves of fear through immigrant communities, deterred individuals from accessing essential court services and undermined the safety of the entire community,” the letter points out.
In addition to urging federal authorities to immediately cease immigration enforcement actions at courthouses, the letter ask the Department of Homeland Security to treat courthouses as sensitive locations. DHS has traditionally limited enforcement at other sensitive locations, such as hospitals, schools and places of worship—including issuing a pair of memos in 2011 in which the agency codified this practice—but has so far refused to limit enforcement at courthouses.
The organizations signing the letter include the ACLU of Michigan, American Citizens for Justice, the Arab American Civil Rights League, the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, the Michigan Poverty Law Program, the Michigan State Planning Body, the National Lawyers Guild Detroit and Michigan Chapters, SafeHouse Center, Street Democracy, the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice and the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan. The letter was also signed by the 29th District Court , multiple law firms, and 288 Michigan attorneys.
To help Michigan attorneys cope with situations where their clients are being arrested by ICE in court, the ACLU and Michigan Immigrant Rights Center simultaneously released a guide for lawyers, explaining how they can minimize the risks of going to court for their clients.
The guide urges attorneys or individuals who witness immigration arrests at courthouses to immediately contact the Immigrant Justice Partnership (firstname.lastname@example.org), a joint project of the ACLU and Michigan Immigrant Rights Center that was recently established to document the increasing number of abuses by immigration enforcement agents.