Monday, February 4, 2019

ICE officers stalking Pennsylvania courthouses

The Philadelphia the United States, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement  (ICE) office is the most aggressive in the country, seizing more undocumented immigrants with no criminal convictions than any other. Courthouse arrests are a key part of its strategy, reported Slate. ICE agents stake out Pennsylvania courts and persuade personnel to reveal the immigration status of plaintiffs, defendants, parolees—anyone with business before a judge. Then they arrest these immigrants, either in the courthouse or just outside it, placing them in detention and thwarting their access to justice.
The Pennsylvania judiciary does not have to be complicit in ICE’s assault on the integrity of its justice system. On Wednesday, the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple University Beasley School of Law released a new report detailing the devastating impact of ICE’s tactics on Pennsylvania’s immigrants—and urged the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to halt state courts’ collusion with the agency. Its findings bolsters proposals put forth by the ICE Out of Courts Coalition, a collection of public defenders and immigrant advocates led by Community Legal Services. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court can’t stop ICE from snatching immigrants in their homes, schools, and offices. But it can keep ICE agents out of the courthouses where immigrants have a constitutional right to be.
Unsurprisingly, the Temple report notes that ICE activity in Pennsylvania surged after Trump’s election, partly because the president encouraged officers to target individuals without criminal records. ICE conducted courthouse arrests in at least 13 Pennsylvania counties, most of which have large immigrant populations. Probation officials, meanwhile, regularly collaborate with the agency, telling ICE agents which probationers are undocumented. Some probation officers inform ICE when probationers are scheduled for a check-in—allowing ICE to wait at the courthouse and arrest them when they arrive. Others share probationers’ personal information with ICE so agents can seize them at their homes.
Judges, too, help ICE identify undocumented individuals whose immigration status has nothing to do with their claims before the court. A Cumberland County judge called ICE on a couple seeking to get married because she suspected the groom, who is Hispanic, was undocumented. (He wasn’t, but ICE came to the courtroom and fingerprinted him just to make sure.) A Lancaster County judge pressed a defendant about his immigration status during a traffic hearing; when he acknowledged that he was undocumented, the judge had him jailed and asked a police officer to notify ICE. Chester County judges have asked individuals with “Spanish surnames” about their immigration status in an effort to identify undocumented immigrants to report.
The Temple study’s authors implore the Pennsylvania Supreme Court—which promulgates rules for the state judiciary—to convene a task force to craft a response to ICE’s assault on courthouses. Luckily, the ICE Out of Courts Coalition has already proposed a number of sensible policies for the courts to adopt. Among other things, the coalition has called on the courts to prohibit immigration arrests at courthouses, including their “outlying premises”; to prohibit collusion between ICE and court personnel; and to compel ICE officers to identify themselves upon entering a state courthouse.
In 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court proved it was not afraid to take bold action to safeguard individuals’ rights under the state constitution, striking down a GOP gerrymanderdespite a relentless assault by Republican lawmakers. Its progressive majority should not back down from a fight with Trump’s deportation machine. The justices do not have to stand idly by as the Pennsylvania judiciary becomes a stalking ground for ICE agents. They have the power to stop ICE’s immigrations arrests at state courthouses. And Pennsylvania’s victimized, vilified immigrants have nowhere else to turn. 
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