Back in 2011, the Department of Homeland Security had instructed ICE enforcement agents to refrain from detaining individuals at sensitive locations. This 2011 memo required ICE agents to have prior approval before going to certain “sensitive locations”, including schools, churches, and hospitals. The list did not include courthouses among its list of sensitive locations. Recently, ICE has been making arrests at courthouses in and around the Bakersfield area.
The ACLU reported on the recent arrests made by ICE at the Kern County courthouses and noted that “ICE agents have repeatedly raided Kern County courthouses in recent years, rounding up residents waiting to pay fines, appear in court, get married, and even – in one case reported to the ACLU – get a domestic violence restraining order. ICE’s tactics are in tension with their own written policies, which state they will not conduct enforcement actions at “sensitive” locations. Ironically, the raids have kept people from paying tickets and attending court.”
In response to these arrests at courthouses, the ACLU wrote directly to ICE to address what they feel is a location that should be added to the “sensitive locations” list that was in the 2011 memo. The rationale for this is pretty clear, it is in the public interest for individuals that have court matters to be able to go to court without fearing being detained by ICE. Those with minor traffic offenses, seeking court orders for domestic violence matters and temporary restraining orders will be deterred from going to court if they fear being detained.
While those who argue for more immigration enforcement to take place, those arguments fail to take into serious consideration that undocumented aliens are not the only ones that are impacted by this chilling effect. U.S. citizen or lawfully permitted residents here in the U.S. related to those going to court are also harmed by ICE’s arrests being made. Public safety and public welfare are greatly impacted by ICE disregard of the true purpose of the 2011 memo, which is to take “particular care should exercised with any organization assisting children, pregnant women, victims of crime or abuse, or individuals with significant mental or physical disabilities.” It is pretty apparent that the matters that occur at the courthouse impact these very individuals mentioned in the ICE 2011 memo. Let us hope the letter from the ACLU will change ICE’s policy regarding arrests being made at courthouses, since this location should be considered a “sensitive location” along the same line as churches, schools, and hospitals.