Safe Horizon proudly joined New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez this morning to speak out about the chilling effect ICE arrests in courthouses have on undocumented witnesses and victims of crime. They are calling for no ICE enforcement activity in courthouses, and for courts to be treated as sensitive locations like hospitals, places of worship, and schools.
Below is the full testimony of Shani Adess, the senior supervising attorney of Safe Horizon’s Immigration Law Project.
“The presence of ICE in our courthouses means that our courts are no longer a place where all people can go to access safety, services, and justice.
“In New York we have already seen individuals detained in family court, after ICE received a tip that they would be there. In another case, fingerprints were run in the regular course of a family court case for a person to become a guardian of a child. We have seen ICE appear in human trafficking court and attempt to detain a person identified as a human trafficking victim, who may be eligible for immigration relief. We have seen agents inside courtrooms in criminal court with increasing frequency, and we see the huge impact that ICE’s presence in these courthouses has had on our community members’ willingness to come forward or continue with a case.
“There are many ways people can access help, but cutting off the use of our court systems as an avenue to immigrant crime victims limits the choices available to survivors who wish to participate in the justice system. A child who is hurt by someone may be afraid to speak with police or ACS about what happened, because they are afraid going to court means they could be ripped apart from their family once their immigration status is discovered. A mother who is terrified to remain in her home may be even more terrified to go into a courthouse to seek an order of protection, custody, or a divorce, for fear of being detained or deported. Crime victims and witnesses may be too afraid to testify in a criminal court case, so prosecutions can’t go forward. Justice will be served neither for victims—seeking recourse and finality through our system—nor for the accused, whose rights to due process are at grave risk.
“ICE has many other mechanisms through which they have enforced immigration law for years. Using our state courts is not necessary.
“The less that families and children feel that they can safely engage with our systems, the more likely they are to remain in unsafe and harmful environments, fearing what might happen if they come forward. This makes all of our communities and members less safe. It is the people who need access to courts, not immigration enforcement.
“At Safe Horizon’s Immigration Law Project, we firmly believe that our courts must remain a safe space where all people who engage with the system are protected and don’t have to weigh engagement and cooperation against deportation. Safe Horizon unequivocally believes that everyone has a right to live a life free from violence, regardless of their immigration status.
“We stand with immigrant survivors of crime and abuse, and all immigrants, in New York.”