— Jose E. Serrano (@RepJoseSerrano) March 30, 2017
Since President Trump took office, federal immigration officials enforcing the White House’s cross-country crackdown on undocumented immigrants have faced contempt and criticism from advocates who liken their law enforcement tactics to those of the Gestapo.
Escalating the anger are the locations where the immigrants have been detained, places traditionally deemed off limits by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for being “sensitive.”
Now, federal lawmakers are trying to curtail that power.
House Democrats from Oregon, New York and Virginia proposed a bill last week — the Protecting Sensitive Locations Act — that, if passed, would turn ICE’s current guidelines into a law that actively prohibits officials from conducting arrests, interviews, searches or surveillance at these “sensitive” locations. (It’s unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled House.)
The guidelines, per preexisting ICE policy, already categorize schools, hospitals, places of worship, funerals or weddings and public rallies as “sensitive locations.”
The bill would vastly expand that location list, adding bus stops with children, offices for public assistance and members of Congress and, most prominently, all federal, state and local courthouses.
“Our communities are better and safer if all residents feel secure when accessing justice, seeking education and health care, or practicing their faith,” Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) said Friday during a roundtable discussion about the proposed bill. “Recent ICE action targeting immigrants has been aggressive and mean-spirited, and it does not improve the safety of our communities.”
Bonamici sponsored the bill with Reps. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), Don Beyer (D-Va.) and at least 20 other co-sponsors.
The proposed legislation was announced last week amid a nationwide debate about federal immigration policies, sanctuary cities and the rule of law.
California’s top judge, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a Republican appointed in 2010 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, wrote a letter in mid-March to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly criticizing ICE agents for using courthouses as “bait.”
“I am deeply concerned about reports from some of our trial courts that immigration agents appear to be stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests,” she wrote. “ … Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws.”
Cantil-Sakauye followed up last week, using her annual State of the Judiciary address to talk not of budget issues but her growing concern that the rule of law is being “challenged” by President Trump’s immigration crackdown.
“When we hear of immigration arrests and the fear of immigration arrests in our state courthouses, I am concerned that kind of information trickles down into the community, the schools, the churches, the families, and people will no longer come to court to protect themselves or cooperate or bear witness,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “I am afraid that will be the end of justice and communities will be less safe and victimization will continue.”
Her letter brought a sharp response from Sessions and Kelly. “As the chief judicial officer of the State of California,” they wrote, “your characterization of federal law enforcement officers is particularly troubling. As you are aware, stalking has a specific legal meaning in American law, which describes criminal activity involving repetitive following or harassment of the victim with intent to produce fear of harm. The arrest of people in a public place based upon probable cause has long been held by the United States Supreme Court as constitutionally permissible.”
Raids at or near courthouses by ICE officials have been reported in at least five states, The Post has reported, including California, Texas, Arizona, Oregon and Colorado.
The new bill was introduced the same week 84 people were detained by immigration agents in Oregon, Washington and Alaska, reported the Oregonian.
Local judges and elected officials in Multnomah County in Oregon had been pressuring national lawmakers to do something about ICE enforcement activity at and near courthouses. Multnomah County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury told the Oregonian she knew of at least 10 families that were afraid to meet with domestic violence advocates and said other families are so afraid of being detained that they won’t seek medical help at hospitals.
“We have no other place to hold court than our courthouse. It is our forum of justice for our communities,” Judge Nan Waller told the newspaper. “ICE, while they have a mandate to do, have many other opportunities to carry out that mandate.”
At least 34 cities and counties have sued the government or joined suits challenging the constitutionality of Trump’s executive order threatening to withhold funds from so-called sanctuary cities.
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