Washington state’s highest-ranking judge has asked Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to keep immigration agents away from state and local courthouses because they might frighten victims of crime or witnesses in criminal trials.
Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst of the Washington Supreme Court wrote a letter to Kelly on Wednesday, urging him to place state courthouses as off limits for immigration enforcement operations, the Associated Press reported. Fairhurst said lawyers and judges have noticed an increased presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents near courthouses, which she called “deeply troubling.”
“When people are afraid to appear for court hearings, out of fear of apprehension by immigration officials, their ability to access justice is compromised,” Fairhurst wrote. “Their absence curtails the capacity of our judges, clerks and court personnel to function effectively.”
Fairhurst’s letter comes a week after California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye sent her own admonition to Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Sessions about immigration agents making arrests in or near state courthouses. The complaints follow the Trump administration’s directive to ramp-up immigration-related arrests, some of which have taken place at courthouses in California, Oregon and Texas. (RELATED: Under Trump, ICE Agents Actually Free To Do Their Jobs)
An ICE spokeswoman declined to comment on the Washington judge’s letter, but the agency did release a statement in response to Cantil-Sakyue.
“While ICE does arrest targets at courthouses, generally it’s only after investigating officers have exhausted other options,” the statement said.
Fairhurst said DHS should add courthouses to the category of “sensitive locations,” which includes schools, hospitals and places of worship. ICE policy requires agents to avoid immigration arrests at those places unless “exigent circumstances” are present, the AP reported.
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