Last week, Judge Jed S. Rakoff ruled that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests at courthouses in New York State are illegal. This is a triumphant and long-awaited moment for immigrants, including many of the gender violence survivors we serve, and advocates across our State.
ICE’s presence in our courthouses began to increase following the election of President Trump. From January 2017 through December 2018, ICE arrests increased by 1700%. Nearly 75% of our clients at Sanctuary are immigrants and many expressed deep fear of seeking help, reporting crimes, or moving around in public. Gender violence survivors were faced with an impossible choice between ensuring their physical safety and the possibility of deportation.
As arrests increased, advocates across New York responded. Sanctuary for Families joined several leading immigrant service providers to form the ICE Out of the Courts Coalition and contributed to a shocking report on the rise of ICE arrests. Together, our coalition lobbied for the Protect Our Courts Act. While our legislative efforts were unsuccessful, Sanctuary was instrumental in convincing the New York State Office of Court Administration to issue a court order requiring a warrant for any arrest on court property in April 2019. Despite the order, however, arrests continued to increase.
In September 2019, we turned to the courts. Sanctuary for Families joined Make the Road New York, Urban Justice Center, The Door, and New York Immigration Coalition as plaintiffs in a case brought by The Legal Aid Society and Cleary Gottlieb. Our lawsuit sought a halt to ICE courthouse enforcement on behalf of a noncitizen domestic violence survivor who needed to appear in court in order to secure an order of protection but who feared the possibility of ICE arrest. Attorney General Letitia James and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez filed a second lawsuit arguing that ICE enforcement in and around courthouses was a threat to public safety and impeded the administration of justice.
Judge Rakoff’s decision in the lawsuit brought by AG James and DA Gonzalez ensures the access of those most in need of the court’s protection and preserves the sanctity of our system of justice for those who are vulnerable. At a time when victories on immigrant rights are few and far between, we are grateful for the fellowship of our amazing partner agencies, AG James and DA Gonzalez, and immensely proud of the attorneys and clinicians at Sanctuary who support and advocate for immigrant survivors every day.