Ore. restricts ICE from making arrests in state courthouses
An agency spokesperson said ICE turned to courthouses for arrests after county and state prisons haven't cooperated
PORTLAND, Ore. — Effective immediately, agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are forbidden from carrying out arrests inside or in the close vicinity of Oregon’s state courthouses unless the agents first receive warrants from a judge.
Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters enacted the new rule Nov. 14.
The federal immigration agency, which has received an icy reception from many Oregon officials unwilling to help the agency track down and arrests immigrants, said it a strongly worded statement Thursday that it will continue its objective. It’s unclear if that means the agency plans to directly defy Walter’s new rule, but a clash might be in store.
The agency’s statement read: “Despite attempts to prevent ICE officers from doing their jobs, ICE will continue to carry out its mission to uphold public safety and enforce immigration law, and consider carefully whether to refer those who obstruct our lawful enforcement efforts for criminal prosecution."
The statement also said ICE has turned to courthouses to arrest immigrants who qualify for deportation because local policies have prevented county jails and state prisons from cooperating to allow wanted individuals to be transferred to the custody of immigration officials.
“It is ironic that elected officials want to see policies in place to keep ICE out of courthouses, while caring little for laws enacted by Congress to keep criminal aliens out of our country,” the statement read.
In enacting the new rule restricting ICE agents, Walters said she wasn’t favoring one side or the other in the massive debate over immigration, but she is trying to stop ICE agents from disrupting criminal proceedings.
“Adopting this rule protects the integrity of the state judicial process and will allow state courts to fully hold accountable people accused of a crime,” Walters said in a news release. “Arrests in courthouses have interfered with judicial proceedings and removed criminal defendants before they have been sentenced or completed their sentences. We are adopting this rule to maintain the integrity of our courts and provide access to justice – not to advance or oppose any political or policy agenda.”
Walter’s new rule bans ICE arrests without a judicial warrant inside state court buildings or around them -- and that includes entryways, sidewalks and parking lots.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum thanked the chief justice for adopting the new rule -- saying because of it “Oregon will become a safer and more welcoming place for all.” Rosenblum said the rule will protect witnesses, victims, jurors, defendants and others from ICE interference.
“Our courthouses, like our schools, places of worship, and hospitals, are by their very nature sensitive places where all Oregonians must be able to enter without fear,” Rosenblum said in a news release. “These courthouses, located throughout the state, are centers of civic life, and are absolutely critical for everything from marriage to divorce, to filing for a restraining order, to pursuing justice in our courtrooms. Unfortunately, until now, many of our community members could not use our courthouses without constant fear."
Walters’ restriction on ICE agents also was happily received by advocates for immigrant rights.
“Everyone is applauding the decision,” said Sarah Armstrong, a spokeswoman for ACLU of Oregon.
Anger over immigration arrests at courthouses has flared since Donald Trump was elected president. Within days of Trump taking office in January 2017, advocates for immigrants began reporting some highly public arrests or attempted arrests by ICE agents wearing plainclothes and offering little or no explanation.
In October, advocates asked a state committee to approve a rule similar to the one the chief justice enacted Thursday. Advocates also asked Walters to take action on her own, which she did Thursday.
“We hear too often from devastated family members whose loved ones have been snatched up out of Oregon courthouses by people in street clothes and stuffed into unmarked cars and driven off,” said Cristina Marquez, interim executive director of the immigrants’ rights group Causa Oregon, in a news release Thursday. “People have been afraid to go to the courthouses.”
According to the ACLU of Oregon, six states -- California, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico and Washington -- have limited or blocked ICE agents from making arrests in courthouses.
Walters left open the possibility that the rule could be changed at a future date. The state’s Uniform Trial Court Rules Committee plans to discuss the rule in April.