Since Donald Trump took office, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have ramped up the odious practice of targeting courthouses to find and arrest immigrants. As the Intercept reported on Monday, new information released by the Immigrant Defense Project presents a more detailed picture of what this has meant in the past two years in a “sanctuary city” like New York.
According to data collected by the IDP, arrests in and around courts in New York City have increased by 1700 percent, rising from 11 arrests in 2016 to 202 arrests in 2018. A total of 374 people have been arrested at courthouses in 2017 and 2018 combined. As the IDP report notes, ICE officers are also using courthouses to surveil immigrants:
Agents have been spotted sitting in courtrooms, and lurking in hallways, where they watch and wait for individual cases to be called. ICE agents also loiter by security lines at courthouse entrances, and stand directly outside of the courthouse. Individuals appearing in court have been followed in and out of courtrooms, down elevators, into bathrooms, and even out of the court to the subway. ICE officers have also trailed family members, eavesdropped on privileged attorney-client conversations, and followed individuals all the way from the courthouse to their attorney’s office.
Not only are ICE officers increasingly targeting courthouses, they are also doing so in crueler and more violent ways. The IDP report outlines instances of ICE officers pulling guns on immigrants and physically assaulting an immigration attorney that was eight months pregnant. In some cases, people think their loved ones are being kidnapped by ICE officers in plainclothes disguises:
A young man and his mother had just left the Brooklyn Criminal Court after the man’s appearance in court. About a block from the court, two plain-clothes ICE officers appeared out of nowhere, grabbed the man and started to drag him towards an unmarked car. Thinking that her son was being kidnapped, the mother repeatedly asked who the agents were. The officers refused to answer her and when she asked if they were immigration, the officers said no. As the mother cried for help, a third plain-clothes ICE officer came over and pushed her against a wall, causing her head to hit the wall. The officer repeatedly told her to “shut up” and physically blocked her from going over to the unmarked car where her son had been pushed inside. The officers then drove away, leaving his mother sobbing on the street, panicked that her son had been kidnapped.
It wasn’t until the following day when her son called her from the processing facility that this mother knew he had been taken by ICE.
And, according to the IDP report, ICE has also targeted immigrants in vulnerable situations, such as this domestic violence survivor:
A survivor of domestic violence had just appeared in the Yonkers City Court for a hearing at which all charges were dismissed. The woman had no prior criminal history. After the hearing ended, a local law enforcement officer (either a court officer or jail employee) returned to the court and said that ICE was waiting for her. The officer suddenly re-arrested her and took her to a holding cell inside the courthouse which is maintained by the Yonkers police. She was held there for several hours until ICE agents came to pick her up that evening.
This is only a small slice of similarly punitive courthouse arrests happening around the country.