WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union released a report today that shows fear of deportation is stopping immigrants from reporting crimes and participating in court proceedings.

The report, “Freezing Out Justice: How Immigration Arrests at Courthouses Are Undermining the Justice System,” is based on data from a national survey of law enforcement officers, judges, prosecutors, and others, conducted jointly by the ACLU and the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project.

Survey responses were collected from 232 law enforcement officers in 24 states; 103 judges, three court staff, and two court administrators in 25 states; 50 prosecutors in 19 states; and 389 survivor advocates and legal service providers spread across 50 states. Together, they demonstrate that arrests in courthouses and a general fear of deportation are impacting the ability of the justice system to operate fairly and protect public safety.

For example, 67 percent of police officers surveyed reported an impact on their ability to protect crime survivors generally and 64 percent reported an adverse impact on officer safety. Similarly, prosecutors surveyed reported that crimes including domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking were harder to investigate and prosecute because immigrant crime survivors feared immigration consequences if they came forward. The survey also found that 54 percent of judges participating in this survey reported that court cases were interrupted due to an immigrant crime survivor’s fear of coming to court.

“Courthouse arrests threaten immigrants’ constitutional rights and make our communities less safe. When members of our community are afraid to call for help, go to court, and report crimes to the police, public safety suffers,” said Sarah Mehta, human rights researcher at the ACLU and author of the report. “Courts need to be accessible to all members of the public, regardless of their legal status, for the justice system to be meaningful and effective.”

Since President Trump took office, immigration enforcement officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have dramatically expanded their presence at courthouses across the country. As the report documents, reports of courthouse arrests around the country and heightened immigration enforcement in the community more generally are now stopping immigrants from seeking justice.

Some incidents cited in the report include the decision of 13 women in Denver not to pursue domestic violence cases following the release of a videotape of ICE waiting in a courthouse hallway to make an arrest.

At a courthouse in El Paso County, Texas, ICE arrested an undocumented transgender woman as she sought a protective order against her abusive boyfriend. In a family court in Oakland County, Michigan, an undocumented father was arrested by CBP agents when he appeared at a hearing to request custody of his children, who he believed were in danger from his ex-wife’s violent boyfriend.

The report outlines recommendations on how to minimize courthouse arrests by federal immigration enforcement officers and how to protect the fundamental due process rights of immigrants as they access important services at courthouses. These include passing federal legislation to prevent arrests, limiting funding for enforcement at courthouses and other sensitive locations, and requiring judicial approval for courthouse arrests.

The ACLU report is available online here:
https://www.aclu.org/issues/ice-courthouse

The survey is here:
http://niwaplibrary.wcl.american.edu/pubs/immigrant-access-to-justice-national-report/

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