The news cycle may be dominated to an absurd degree by the Russia probe, but never forget that new terrors are insinuating themselves into life every day. On Friday, a WNYC reporter witnessed federal immigration agents in a Queens human trafficking courtroom, searching for a woman they sought to arrest.
The outlet reports that Legal Aid lawyers panicked when they saw agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Queens Criminal Courthouse:
The lawyers said they learned from the judge that ICE wanted a young Chinese woman in the Human Trafficking Intervention Courtroom. They said she’d been charged with working illegally as a masseuse, and was about to receive an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal after completing a program with a community group — a goal of human trafficking court.
The attorneys got their client out by asking the judge to grant bail, and hustled her from the building before she could be detained.
Others weren’t so lucky: An ICE spokesperson confirmed that officers arrested three people outside the courthouse, though no one inside.
ICE’s website lays out that arrests are not typically made (though there are exceptions) in certain sensitive locations, like schools, healthcare facilities, places of worship, religious ceremonies or during public demonstrations, like rallies or parades. However, it stipulates the courthouses do not qualify as “sensitive,” meaning arrests may indeed be made there.
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore is hoping to change that. In a statement to WNYC, she wrote:
“We are committed to the safety and security of all New Yorkers who use our courthouses throughout the state,” she said. “In a continuing dialogue, we have met with federal officials on a local and national level to convey our concerns and request that they treat courthouses as sensitive locations, similar to schools, hospitals and places of worship. We are meeting again next week with Homeland Security officials to further voice our concerns.”
ICE’s FAQ also testily answers the question of why it seems as though courthouse arrests are becoming more and more frequent.
In the past, local authorities were more likely to turn people over to ICE upon their release from jail, it says. Now:
Now that some law enforcement agencies no longer honor ICE detainers, these individuals, who often have criminal histories, are released onto the street, presenting a potential public safety threat. Because courthouse visitors are typically screened upon entry to search for weapons and other contraband, the safety risks for the arresting officers, the arrestee, and members of the community are substantially diminished. In such instances where ICE officers and agents seek to conduct an arrest at a courthouse, every effort is made to take the person into custody in a secure area, out of public view, but this is not always possible.
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