Sightings of ICE agents at courthouses across the state have surged from 11 to 110, compared with last year, advocates say.
In 2016, the Immigrant Defense Project documented 11 arrests or attempted arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents around the state. This year the number has spiked by 900%, with most in New York City — including one arrest on Tuesday in Brooklyn Criminal Court.
“The exponential increase in ICE courthouse arrests reflects a dangerous new era in enforcement and immigrant rights violations,” Immigrant Defense Project attorney Lee Wang said. “Immigrants seeking justice in the criminal, family and civil courts should not have to fear for their freedom when doing so.”
The group’s analysis found 20% of the immigrants ICE arrested this year had no prior criminal convictions. Some were appearing in court for traffic violations before immigration agents grabbed them. At least 16% of the immigrants were in court for desk appearance tickets, meaning their offenses did not merit an arrest. Arrests have occurred in family court and in one notorious case — at Queens Human Trafficking Court.
Since President Trump took office, ICE has ramped up enforcement of immigration laws as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration.
The Office of Court Administration, which oversees state courts, had documented 86 ICE sightings. The discrepancy was likely due to some arrests occurring shortly after a suspect left the courthouse, officials and advocates said.
“We have conveyed on both a local and national level to ICE and other federal officials our ‘serious concerns about ICE activity at certain locations, such as Family Court and Human Trafficking Court,’ ” OCA spokesman Lucian Chalfen said, citing a previous statement.
An ICE spokeswoman said the agency complied with state guidelines and typically entered courthouses only after exhausting other avenues.
But Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at the Legal Aid Society, said ICE’s arrests in courthouses demanded a legislative solution from Albany.
“These arrests plague our clients in every borough and deter immigrants and others from seeking services offered by the court that should always be accessible,” Luongo said.