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Critics call on ICE to stop courthouse enforcement actions

While most people might not realize it, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, has had a memorandum in place for several years directing agents not to take immigrants into custody at certain "sensitive locations" absent extraordinary circumstances.

These sensitive locations include everything from places of worship and schools to public rallies and hospitals. However, both politicians and immigrant advocacy groups are now calling on ICE to add another place to this list: courthouses.

According to these critics, a growing number of immigrants are being taken into custody at courthouses around the nation while attempting to attend hearings, acquire marriage licenses or even secure restraining orders.

This state of affairs, they argue, has served to sow the seeds of fear among immigrants such that many are no longer willing to come to the courthouse out of fear of being taken into custody by ICE. This, in turn, means they are being denied due process, as well as the ability to fulfill certain civic duties and petition the courts for relief.

"I have no doubt that this is just the tip of the iceberg," said an official with the American Civil Liberties Union. "Courthouses need to be open, accessible and safe to all community members, regardless of immigration status."

Interestingly, high-ranking ICE officials met with this ACLU official earlier this spring, informing her that the agency had indeed revised its guidelines such that agents would only apprehend those undocumented immigrants considered a threat to public safety or convicted of violent felonies at courthouses. Even then, they indicated that these enforcement actions would take place in nonpublic courthouse areas.

This ACLU official, as well as other critics of ICE have indicated that this hasn't actually happened and that immigrants -- regardless of their threat level or criminal past -- continue to be apprehended in public courthouse areas.

Accordingly, the call is once again being renewed to have courthouses added to the list of sensitive locations otherwise off limits to ICE.

Stay tuned for updates ...

If you or a loved one has been taken to an immigrant detention center and is at risk of removal, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and your options moving forward.

Source: The New York Times, "Advocates seek to make courthouses off limits for immigration officials," Kirk Semple, May 26, 2014

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