In the two years since President Donald Trump's inauguration, the country's immigration enforcement policy has expanded: Where once Immigration and Customs Enforcement focused on removing undocumented immigrants with criminal records, ICE officers have now expanded their scope to target all undocumented immigrants, regardless of background.
According to a new report released Monday by the Immigrant Defense Project, an advocacy organization, this new mandate has led to a 1,700 percent increase in ICE arrests in and around courthouses in New York state. The IDP is concerned that this increase in courthouse arrests could impede New York's legal system, as undocumented immigrants grow increasingly afraid to come forward as witnesses or defendants in legal proceedings.
Based on reports gathered by its network of attorneys and legal advocates, as well as calls to its dedicated public hotline, the IDP collected more than 200 firsthand accounts of ICE arrests in or around courthouses in 2018.
The organization also found that ICE agents' use of force and scope of operations has increased over the past two years. "ICE operations increased not only in absolute number but grew in brutality and geographic scope," the report states. "Agents, disguised in plainclothes, used intrusive surveillance and violent force to execute arrests. They also reached into many new areas of the state, conducting arrests in several upstate counties that were previously untouched."
The IDP and other advocacy organizations have warned that ICE arrests in courthouses could erode public trust in the judicial system, as the courts become hostile locations for immigrants.
Seeking to preserve public trust, ICE currently enforces a policy that protects people in "sensitive locations" from arrest. According to ICE's website, these locations include schools, hospitals, places of religious worship, and public demonstrations. Though courthouses are not included, ICE has implemented other specific policies to explain how and why courthouse arrests might take place.
"ICE will not make civil immigration arrests inside courthouses indiscriminately," ICE's website reads. "ICE civil immigration enforcement actions inside courthouses include actions against specific, targeted aliens." These targeted people include convicted criminals, gang members, potential national security threats, and people who have disobeyed removal orders.
The policy asserts that other undocumented immigrants encountered by ICE during courthouse operations—such as the family and friends of individuals ICE has targeted for removal—will not be arrested inside the court, except in specific circumstances (for instance, if they interfere with an arrest).
"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement doesn’t statistically track arrests made at courthouses. Specific location of arrests would be included in case notes. So, unfortunately, we can't speak to the data [in IDP's report]," Rachael Yong Yow, Public Affairs Officer of ICE New York, said in an email. Yow also pointed to ICE's courthouse arrest policy directive, and highlighted portions of the policy that explain the limits on who can be arrested in courthouses and that any non-criminal enforcement actions require special approval from an ICE field office director.
*Update—January 28th, 2019: This post has been updated to include a statement from ICE.