Immigration agents could start arresting undocumented crime victims at
courthouses, a Department of Homeland Security official announced Tuesday,
sparking criticism from state officials who argue that such policies would
prevent local police departments and prosecutors from doing their jobs.
David Lapan, a spokesman with the department, told reporters that someone
who is subject to deportation shouldn't be shielded simply because
he or she is a crime victim. Witnesses to crimes shouldn't be protected
either, he added.
"Just because they're a victim in a certain case does not mean
there's not something in their background that could cause them to
be a removable alien," Lapan said. "Just because they're
a witness doesn't mean they might not pose a security threat for other
But critics claim that the presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement
agents at courthouses would deter victims from reporting crimes and witnesses
from testifying to them.
Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the chief justice of California, sent
a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and DHS Secretary John Kelly last month amid reports of ICE officials cuffing undocumented immigrants
at courthouses across the Golden State.
"Our courthouses serve as a vital forum for ensuring access to justice
and protecting public safety," Cantil-Sakauye wrote. "Courthouses
should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country's
Echoing Cantil-Sakauey's criticism, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie
Beck said that his city has seen a 25% drop in the number of sexual assaults
reported by Latino residents since President Trump took office. He also
reported a 10% drop in domestic violence reports among the same group.
In a joint response to Cantil-Sakauye's letter, Kelly and Sessions
argued that conducting arrests at courthouses safeguards ICE agents from
violence, as suspects have had to first go through weapon screenings before
entering the judicial buildings. They also argued that detaining people
at courthouses in so-called sanctuary states, such as California and New
York, is necessary since they refuse to cooperate with detainer requests from ICE.
"As a result, ICE officers and agents are required to locate and arrest
these aliens in public places," Kelly and Sessions wrote.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Lapan tried to assure critics that undocumented
immigrants who have been subjected to sexual assault and domestic violence
can apply for so-called U visas.
But the government only offers 10,000 such visas per year, and application
processes can take months. Furthermore, some recent ICE arrests seem to
suggest that the victims Lapan referred to are still being targeted.
A case that recently made national headlines involved an undocumented woman
from Mexico who was arrested at a courthouse in El Paso, Texas, when she
apparently tried to file a protective order against a boyfriend she claimed
was abusing her.
"We will not continue to contribute to the safety of the United States
and the State of Texas if people don't feel comfortable reporting
domestic abuse, reporting crime, serving as witnesses, working with law
enforcement," Democratic Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke said on the
House floor after the woman's arrest in February. "I urge this
administration to send an unequivocal message that it is imperative that
we respect all people of all communities regarding their immigration status."
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