ACLU-NJ and advocates offered testimony before NJ Assembly Judiciary Committee on consequences of ICE arrests at courthouses

TRENTON – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) joined immigration lawyers and advocates in offering testimony on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests of undocumented individuals at New Jersey state courthouses. The ACLU-NJ discussed the harm to public safety when ICE agents canvass courthouses and gave practical steps attorneys can take to protect vulnerable clients.

Since January, ICE has stepped up efforts to track and arrest individuals at courthouses. After ICE made arrests in courthouses in Passaic and Middlesex County, New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner requested the Department of Homeland Security extend its policy on sensitive locations – such as schools, hospitals, and places of worship – to include courthouses.

Because the Department of Homeland Security has not heeded requests such as Chief Justice Rabner’s to end courthouse arrests, the ACLU-NJ encouraged the legislature to examine other policy changes to prevent New Jersey’s immigrants from getting swept up into the growing federal immigration detention system.

The following statement can be attributed to Jeanne LoCIcero, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey:

Jeanne LoCicero

“Public arrests by ICE in courthouses send a chilling message. We cannot expect people to come forward as witnesses or victims if they are afraid that ICE agents will arrest or deport them or their family. Our courts provide fundamental protections for all residents of our state – and everyone, regardless of where we were born, is entitled to those protections.

“When ICE agents arrest people in courthouses, it erodes faith in the justice system. Non-citizen victims, witnesses, and family members will be less likely to report crimes, get a domestic violence protective order, or resolve a child custody dispute, and this makes New Jersey less safe for all of us.

“Law enforcement officials have noted dramatic decreases in sexual assault reports among Latino communities, not because the crime rate is down, but because victims are too afraid of potential immigration consequences to come forward.

“When any contact with the criminal justice system - including the most minor of offenses - makes an individual a priority for deportation, our legal system cannot function properly. Alternatives to court appearances are imperative.

“We join advocates who have called for universal legal representation for immigrants in deportation proceedings. With the increasing risk of immigration detention, immigrants need access to legal representation more urgently than ever. Developing a model like the public defender – where immigrants have representation regardless of income – ensures that the most vulnerable of our residents are provided due process of law and the rights the Constitution guarantees.”

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