BU Today


POV: Get ICE Agents Out of Courthouses

Trump’s new enforcement efforts “run afoul of the Constitution”


Immigration agents are now routinely entering courthouses to arrest victims, witnesses, and defendants alike. Today, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are engaging in courtroom enforcement tactics that previously would have been considered politically, if not legally, disfavored. The mobilization of limited federal resources toward the mass apprehension and detention of suspected noncitizens escalated dramatically in early 2017. In the first month of his administration, President Trump issued a lesser noticed executive order, effectively collapsing the previous hierarchy of immigration law enforcement set up by the Obama administration that at least purported to prioritize the apprehension of convicted criminals and terrorists. Dispensing with priorities, this administration is now preying upon all suspected noncitizens, not only in their homes and workplaces, but in courthouses: our temples of justice. Not only are these new enforcement efforts making our communities less safe, but they also run afoul of the Constitution.

ICE acting director Thomas Homan said earlier this year that “the shackles are off” and “no one’s off the table.” This threat is our new reality.

In Texas, a domestic violence survivor was arrested as she sought a restraining order from her abuser. In Michigan, a father seeking custody of his children was detained. In Brooklyn, showing up for a child support hearing is enough to risk arrest by ICE. In Massachusetts, more than two dozen courthouses have been targeted for ICE enforcement actions. Recently, a noncitizen facing a charge of unauthorized operation of a motor vehicle was taken into ICE custody when he appeared to answer this relatively minor charge. Indeed, internal emails between ICE officials explicitly and plainly state that “[c]urrent ICE policy supports enforcement actions at courthouses.”

It is well documented that ICE enforcement actions have a chilling effect on the reporting of crime. In Denver, a city attorney reported that four survivors of domestic violence dropped their cases after seeing video of an ICE agent at a county courthouse. Police chiefs in Los Angeles and Houston have reported that the number of Latinos reporting violent crime, and in particular, sexual assault, has dropped dramatically during 2017—although the actual commission of these crimes has not declined.

Indeed, court officials, administrators, and judges from Oregon to New Jersey have called on ICE to cease enforcement actions at courthouses, citing threats to public safety. As Paula Carey, chief justice of the Massachusetts Trial Court, noted in a letter to the special agent in charge of ICE for Massachusetts, if ICE isn’t kept out of the courthouse, “the unfortunate result will be that public safety will decrease, communities will become less safe, and perpetrators of domestic violence will feel empowered to abuse their victim with impunity.”

Just as ICE’s courthouse infiltration threatens public safety, an increasing ICE courthouse presence also imperils our sacrosanct system of justice. The First Amendment protects the right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This is a right that, as the Supreme Court opined 50 years ago, is among “the most precious of liberties” guaranteed by our Constitution. Under the law and Constitution, all persons, including noncitizens, have the right to seek help from the government without fear of punishment or reprisal. But with ICE exhibiting an increasingly routine presence in our courthouses, litigants of all kinds will be deterred from seeking services, exercising their custody rights, and pursuing a timely and fair resolution to their civil and criminal disputes. This right to seek redress without fear will be nothing more than a hollow hope for the noncitizens among us.

ICE must be prohibited from entering courthouses. Cities, counties, and states must stand up to this federal law enforcement bullying, and judges must continue to speak out. Our collective safety—and most precious of liberties—hangs in the balance.

Sarah Sherman-Stokes, a School of Law clinical instructor and associate director of the Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking Program, can be reached at sstokes@bu.edu.

“POV” is an opinion page that provides timely commentaries from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be about 700 words long, should contact Rich Barlow at barlowr@bu.edu. BU Today reserves the right to reject or edit submissions. The views expressed are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of Boston University.


7 Comments on POV: Get ICE Agents Out of Courthouses

  • Web on 12.12.2017 at 8:15 am

    Missing in this breathless narrative of “abuse” by the federal government of illegal immigrants is one fact – the persons described have no legal right to be in the country. As that is undisputed in the article, then the question could be asked, “where IS the proper place to apprehend those persons”? The answer is, and I’m not being crass, is wherever the federal government deems appropriate.
    This does not even begin to run afoul of the Constitution. These persons are in all cases afforded due process and it is long held that the application of other Constitutional rights to non-citizens are limited. The federal government has every right and indeed the responsibility to remove persons from the country who have no legal status to be here.
    When the author states “this administration is now preying upon all suspected non-citizens…in courthouses: our temples of justice” he is really saying we should be ignoring the law in the very place where it is most enshrined.

    • Dan on 12.12.2017 at 9:36 am

      The problem with Trump’s Troopers being let loose to exercise their power in this way is that it interferes with the fundamental protections of justice granted by our Constitution to every person inside the borders of the United States- and that is exactly the motive of many of Trump’s most ardent supporters. I’m not saying that you, personally, Web, would like to see illegal immigrants lose the right to be legally protected from exploitation, murder, sexual trafficking, to be educated, or to have a path to citizenship. But it has been clearly shown by law enforcement records that that is exactly what happens when ICE does exactly what they are doing now.

      • Andrew Wolfe on 12.12.2017 at 1:44 pm

        Please stop putting words – and bigotry – in the mouths of Trump supporters, least of all by calling them “ardent.” Trump supporters like myself favor the vetting of all immigrants to keep out criminals and terrorists. Many of those illegal immigrants who are exploited are being exploited by other illegal immigrants. Every immigration exception case for this hardship or that becomes a vector for terrorists like the other day’s New York bomber – he came in for “family reunification.” I’m sorry but you get the protections of a legal resident in a country where you are a legal resident.

        • Logic Rules on 12.21.2017 at 11:06 am

          Great Point

  • Jane on 12.12.2017 at 8:56 am

    There is another issue. As a former immigration attorney, I discovered people who were, indeed, American citizens who had NO IDEA that they were. It would take me longer than a couple of days to determine how the law applied to them. Apprehending people and not giving them an opportunity to know what their rights are cannot be right especially if they are US citizens. So there is something wrong with the process.

  • Trish on 12.12.2017 at 8:07 pm

    None of this is about keeping anyone safe. Its politics and bullying at its worst! “Protecting us from the immigrants” is just the latest way the ego-driven, power-hungry old white men who are in charge can feel important.

  • Mass Hack on 10.17.2018 at 7:19 pm

    Why are Feds taking Trial Court Employees to Federal Grand Jury and grilling them about ICE policies and procedures when we ALL know it’s a political game of dodgeball and Fed. Govt ability to do whatever to whomever they feel doesn’t agree or OBEY with current big brother agenda.

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