ACLU NJ: ICE courthouse arrests make immigrants less likely to report crimes

 Attorney and immigration advocates testify at legislative hearing. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Attorney and immigration advocates testify at legislative hearing. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

New Jersey lawmakers are hearing plenty of concerns about federal immigration agents entering state courthouses to arrest unauthorized immigrants.

It’s not clear just how often that’s happening, but advocates for immigrants say it’s having a chilling effect.

Sara Cullinane is the director of Make the Road New Jersey that provides legal services to immigrants.

“There are people we know who can potentially file civil lawsuits that have declined to do so because they’re worried about seeing ICE in the courtroom. Domestic violence victims, children who are victims of attacks, may not report crimes if they fear going into a courtroom.”

Jeanne LoCicero with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey said those arrests erode faith in the justice system.

“Non-citizen victims, witnesses, and family members will be less likely to report a crime, participate in prosecution, get a domestic violence order, or resolve a custody dispute, and it makes New Jersey less safe for all of us when that happens.”

Michael Noriega with the state Bar Association’s Immigration Law Section said ICE agents going into courthouses to make those arrests can create a potential danger

“You have a judge on the bench, you have a municipal prosecutor, that have no idea that another armed individual from another jurisdiction, another office, is entering their courtroom and sitting there waiting for an individual to arrest.”

New Jersey’s Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has asked the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to stop the courthouse arrests.

Assembly Judiciary Committee chairman John McKeon questioned whether there’s much more the state can do about it.

“That’s the million dollar question to the extent of what policies really are the responsibility of the federal government versus what we can do internally or as a state.”

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