ICE Blasted For Courthouse Arrests

Christopher Peak PhotoTwo weeks ago, Marco Mendieta, a 24-year-old undocumented immigrant living in the Quinnipiac Meadows neighborhood, was arraigned in New Haven’s state Superior Court for breaking a traffic law. A judge released him without bail, accepting Mendieta’s promise to appear at the next hearing.

But Mendieta wasn’t able to keep his word. Before he even left the courthouse, federal immigration authorities picked him up and sent him to a detention facility in Massachusetts. After being shuttled to several different prisons, Mendieta ended up back in Mexico this week.

Activists highlighted cases like Mendieta’s at a protest Wednesday afternoon against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducting enforcement activity within state courthouses.

The protesters argued that ICE’s arrests deterred undocumented immigrants from using the justice system — effectively, closing off rights to which every American is entitled, even if they came here illegally.

Stretching white banners across the courthouse steps, more than 75 activists chanted in unison in front of 121 Elm St., shaming a prosecutor inside who they said had been complicit in ICE’s arrests. They called on state officials to shore up protections and urged immigrants not to enter courts alone.

“We’re here today because the Trump Administration has emboldened an already rogue agency to treat courthouses ... as a hunting ground,” said Ana María Rivera-Forastieri, co-director of the Connecticut Bail Fund, which helps immigrants and low-income people avoid jail-time by posting bail. “We know that ICE agents are hanging out in the lobby, they’re racially profiling, they’re screaming out names —  all to hope that somebody falls into their deceptive practices.”

According to Obama-era guidelines, ICE agents aren’t supposed to raid hospitals, schools or houses of worship, unless they’ve received authorization from supervisors or face an imminent danger. (New Haven activists have used that loophole to create a network of sanctuary churches to shield deportees.)

But, as a new directive issued last month clarified, courthouses have never been on that list of “sensitive locations.”

When sanctuary cities don’t cooperate, ICE actually prefers to use the courthouse to make arrests, said John Mohan, an agency spokesperson. That’s because the courthouse is one of the few locations where they can track down undocumented immigrants who’ve evaded them with “multiple aliases,” “false addresses” or “fraudulent documentation,” Mohan said, while being sure that they haven’t snuck “weapons or contraband” past metal detectors that could put agents and bystanders at risk of a shoot-out.

“Courthouse arrests are often necessitated by the unwillingness of jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the transfer of custody,” Mohan said in an email. “Absent a viable residential address or place of employment, a courthouse may afford the most likely opportunity to locate a target and take him or her into custody.”

Mohan said that the ICE agents enter courthouses to take “targeted enforcement action against specific aliens,” rather than conducting random searches. Agents “make every effort to limit the time spent at the planned place of arrest,” he said, usually nabbing their target after the hearing concludes.

They also try to get the immigrants in cuffs in private. “ICE officers and agents make every effort to take the person into custody in a secure area, out of public view,” Mohan said, “but this is not always possible.”

Protesters said ICE’s arrests deterred undocumented immigrants from seeking the legal help they often desperately need.

Diana Blank, a staff attorney at New Haven Legal Assistance Association, said her clients had already dropped a number of cases. Victims of domestic violence didn’t pursue restraining orders. Mothers won’t request child support or back their children during citizenship applications. Others didn’t fight against evictions or unpaid wages.

“What ICE is doing is endangering the safety and well-being of whole communities of people who have compelling reasons to appeal to our courts for protection and relief,” Blank said. “But it’s also sending a message to those who abused and exploited those people, some of the most vulnerable members of our communities, that they may continue their violence, repression and coercion with impunity.”

The state’s judicial marshals can’t stop ICE from entering the building. “They’re allowed to come in and do what they have to do,” said O’Donovan Murphy, the director of the judicial marshal service. But his guards “don’t impede or assist” with the arrests, he said.

Kica Matos, the Center for Community Change’s director of immigrant rights and racial justice, said protestors needed to let ICE know they aren’t welcome in New Haven, including at the courthouse.

“For more than 12 years now, our city has fought to declare itself a sanctuary city. Our police do not cooperate with ICE, our mayor has stood up against the Trump administration, and our community has welcomed and embraced immigrants,” she said. “But we have a problem: ICE does not seem to have gotten the memo. They are unleashed, unshackled and out of control. It’s up to all of us to continue to build this wall of resistance and fight back. We have to stand up in New Haven!”

After reading about recent cases in Bridgeport and Stamford, including one reported pepper-spraying on the courthouse steps, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal asked the Trump administration in a letter Tuesday to declare courthouses off-limits, echoing a similar plea from the state’s chief justice last year.

Michael Wishnie, a Yale Law School professor whose clinic represents the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance (CIRA), said he’s looking into filing a lawsuit to stop the practice. He said he believes ICE’s arrests may violate a constitutional right to access the courts, several civil rights and a common-law privilege to arrive at judicial proceedings without facing arrest.

Activists also blamed local prosecutors for enabling ICE. They called out Melissa Holmes, an assistant state’s attorney, for working directly with federal agents by tipping them off to undocumented immigrants in her cases and coordinating transfers of custody.

When ICE is notified of alleged criminal activity, their agents often send out a detainer request. That motion asks the local police or state marshals to keep a suspect in lock-up — even past the scheduled release time. If the agency agrees, the detainer request buys ICE an extra 48 hours to fetch the immigrant into federal custody.

At least once, Holmes alerted ICE about an immigrant with an outstanding detainer request. Holmes did not respond to multiple requests for comment, including messages left by phone, email and a note at her office.

Wishnie, the law professor, pointed out that these detainer requests are discretionary. “No state or municipal official is required to comply with ICE detainers,” he wrote in an email. In fact, Wishnie added, numerous judges have actually ruled that it might be “unlawful” to do so.

The Trust Act, a state law passed in 2013, prohibits Connecticut authorities from complying with a detainer request — unless the suspect fits into seven broad exceptions, like having a felony conviction, being identified as a gang member or terrorist, or appearing to present an “unacceptable risk to public safety.”

The statute, however, doesn’t prohibit prosecutors from talking with ICE, Wishnie said.

On behalf of CIRA, Wishnie has asked Kevin Kane, the chief state’s attorney, to adopt a “channeling protocol” to limit that kind of communications. If adopted, line prosecutors (just like lower-level employees in other state agencies) wouldn’t communicate with ICE, instead passing requests up the chain of command to their supervisors.

David Strollo, supervisory assistant state’s attorney in New Haven, said that Holmes once came to him to ask about the open ICE detainer. Together, they agreed they couldn’t ignore it.

“If a valid detainer is logged in [the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database], we have an affirmative duty to let them know that person is here,” Strollo said. “We’re not federal agents —  we don’t see an illegal immigrant and call ICE —  but we can’t ignore that [detainer]. We have a duty as lawyers and prosecutors.”

He termed a prosecutor’s calls to ICE “more of an inquiry.”

“We go to ICE —  and defense lawyers want us to do this —  and ask, ‘Does ICE still want to get this person?’” Strollo said. “‘Hey, is this somebody you’re picking up or not?’”

Activists questioned whether the state’s attorney needs to do even that.

“Why was [Holmes] even involved in the process?” asked Rivera-Forastieri, who helped create CIRA. “She’s supposed to be there making sure justice is served. Prosecutors should not be in the business of turning people over to immigration. It’s not their job.”

Others said Holmes’s communication with ICE indicated a larger problem in the state’s criminal justice system.

“The judicial branch, state and local, is not just a passive dissenter to ICE enforcement in the courthouses that occasionally says we’re against this but our hands our tied,” said Alook Bhatt, a community organizer with CIRA. “No, they’re actually a very active component connecting the carceral state with the immigration enforcement system.”

Strollo pointed out that detainer requests are “infrequent,” especially compared to the number of undocumented immigrants who show up for hearings every day.

He said he doesn’t believe anyone is scared to enter the building. “We don’t have any reputation for detaining people,” Strollo said. “In any given day, we have dozens of illegal immigrants, but it’s irrelevant to how we treat the disposition of those cases.”

Asked if he thought that Wednesday’s protests on the courthouse steps would change that, Strollo said no.

“People have the freedom to say whatever they want,” he said, “but it’s not going to change our policies whatsoever.”

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posted by: new havener on February 28, 2018  11:13pm

“The protesters argued that ICE’s arrests deterred undocumented immigrants from using the justice system — effectively, closing off rights to which every American is entitled, even if they came here illegally.”

In and of itself, the above statement captures the absurdity of the protest…not to mention that, unless the undocumented hadn’t done something additionally wrong to earn themselves a court date, no one would be the wiser to their existence.

When’s the last time you had a court appearance for good behavior?

posted by: narcan on March 1, 2018  2:32am

Why, just last week, I received a summons for breaking statute 53a-182z, Orderly Conduct.

The judge told me I really need to get my life apart, and quit making a big deal out of our justice system.

posted by: Peter99 on March 1, 2018  7:08am

Key words-closing off rights to which every American is entitled. When did people that are in the United States illegally become United States citizens? Using the word American in place of United States citizen is a cute play on language because technically they are Americans if they are from Canada, or South America. The primary issue is legal versus illegal immigration, and the United States of America has the lawful right to deport anybody who is her illegally. The protesters can spin it anyway they want, but ICE has the duty to enforce the law without passion or prejudice. As a society, we do not have the right to pick and choose what laws to obey. We do have the right to change those laws that we find oppressive. Instead of protesting on the steps of the courthouse, go to the elected officials who can write or change the law. Public opinion and newspaper articles can bring pressure on legislators to change the law, but opinion cannot stop the enforcement of existing federal law. Logic is not as sexy as a protest, but at the end of the day the only option is changing the existing law.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on March 1, 2018  7:12am

New havener, let’s say you are the victim of a crime that is witnessed by a person in the country illegally. Do you think they are going to come to court to testify on your behalf if that risks their deportation? If an undocumented immigrant is robbed on the streets, shouldn’t they be allowed to seek justice without fear of deportation?

posted by: 1644 on March 1, 2018  9:05am

Kevin:  We have specific provisions allowing those who are here illegally, but witnesses in criminal prosecutions and/or victims of crime to remain here.  The people ICE is arresting at the courthouse are not witnesses or victims, they are perpetrators.  As ICE says, these arrests would not be necessary of Connecticut would cooperate with ICE in turning over wanted aliens when the state has them in custody. 
  I note that NHI does not specify the “traffic law” that Mendieta is charged with violating, nor his any possible prior crimes.

  BTW,  if the state adopted a policy of forbidding its employees from talking to ICE, that would violate federal law.  Connecticut does not have such policy, whereas California does.  The difference is why California is on DoJ’s list of sanctuary areas and Connecticut is not.

[Chris: The charges against Mendieta are no longer accessible online, because prosecutors apparently dropped them after his deportation.]

posted by: LorcaNotOrca on March 1, 2018  9:12am

@ Kevin McCarthy::  But isn’t that part of the assumed risk of living in a country illegally in the first place?  You can argue it shouldn’t be so, but then why have immigration laws in the first place?
I’m as compassionate as the next person, and I want anyone who wants to come here and earn a better living - as many of these undocumented do - to have an easy path to either citizenship or some kind of visa program, etc. But we can’t just not enforce the laws.

“effectively, closing off rights to which every American is entitled, even if they came here illegally” is one of the most ridiculously contradictory statements I’ve read lately! Good work.

posted by: BevHills730 on March 1, 2018  9:22am

Peter99 believes it is logical to unnecessarily tear families apart after they have done nothing wrong.  Very simple and backwards logic.

posted by: Peter99 on March 1, 2018  10:19am

Re: BevHills730
you either do not understand what I wrote or are choosing to ignore it and put your own spin on it. Nowhere did I comment pro or con on tearing families apart. My comments were specifically addressing the legal aspects of the law that ICE is enforcing. We either enforce the law or we have a lawless society. Selective law enforcement is not an option.

posted by: alphabravocharlie on March 1, 2018  10:38am

ICE is fulfilling its legal responsibility. The Prosecutors are fulfilling their legal responsibilities. Those opposed to this are hypocrites who cite justice on one hand and pick and choose the laws they obey on the other. You can’t have it both ways.

posted by: cunningham on March 1, 2018  11:07am

“We do have the right to change those laws that we find oppressive. Instead of protesting on the steps of the courthouse, go to the elected officials who can write or change the law. Public opinion and newspaper articles can bring pressure on legislators to change the law, but opinion cannot stop the enforcement of existing federal law. Logic is not as sexy as a protest, but at the end of the day the only option is changing the existing law.”

Good point, as there certainly hasn’t been a prolonged advocacy campaign for comprehensive immigration reform! A point further strengthened by the fact that prosecutorial discretion has never, will never, and indeed could never ever be a thing that law enforcement exercises.

posted by: TheMadcap on March 1, 2018  12:50pm

“We either enforce the law or we have a lawless society. Selective law enforcement is not an option.”

That’s nonsense. The law is applied with discretion to the individual and circumstances on the part of both police and prosecutors all the time. It’s a hallmark of the legal system

posted by: Noteworthy on March 1, 2018  1:22pm

Too Much Time On Their Hands Notes:

1. The perpetual outrage machine is old, tired and repetitive.  Give it a rest.

2. There is no better place to get justice than the halls of justice. It is sacred in another sense and not the one to which you’re accustomed. Nothing wrong with it.

3. It is disgraceful to mix and match “American” at will. You are an American one of two ways - you’ve been naturalized or you were born here. The identity is important and it stands for something. It is not some generic pair of sweatpants that fits anybody who happens to be here anymore than a thief can call themselves by my last name just because they broke into my house.

4. If you want laws changed - go to DC. I’m tired of all the BS commotion in this city of never ending protestations.

posted by: LookOut on March 1, 2018  2:01pm

I’m very glad to see that the majority of the posters on this article are supporting the rule of law.  If you are not playing by the rules (whether you like the rules or not), there should be consequences in a civilized society.  It’s easy to find a couple sad stories where someone is disadvantaged due to unique circumstances - that doesn’t mean that we should revert to lawlessness.

posted by: cunningham on March 1, 2018  2:20pm

Ah, “effectively orphaning one’s children for the crime of living and working in a place without having jumped through the right hoops” or “utter chaos and lawlessness,” the very truest dichotomy of them all. That is the actual choice we have to make.

posted by: 1644 on March 1, 2018  2:31pm

As far as “breaking up families”, in almost every case the children of the deportees share their parents’ citizenship, as well as having US citizenship if they were born here.  Spouses are also almost always entitled to live in the deportees’ country.  So, spouses and children may travel with the deportees to the deportees home country.  The decision to break up the family is ultimately up to the deportees, not ICE.  (As a child of immigrants myself, my parents ensured that I shared their citizenship as well as being of US citizen by virtue of birthplace.)

posted by: cunningham on March 1, 2018  2:53pm

1644 is right: the decision to break up their family is on the deportees themselves. They could just as easily wrench their children from the only home they’ve ever known. Is the parent’s country of origin impoverished and dangerous? Quite often! But if keeping the family together is really so important, that shouldn’t matter. Why don’t these so-called “activists” appreciate logic?

posted by: BevHills730 on March 1, 2018  2:57pm

No Peter, enforcement of the law as you suggest is not an option.  There are over 10 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.  The idea of deporting this many individuals is absurd and would result in the violation of rights for many people, as it has in this case.  So you are advocating for a lawless and cruel society.  You are also advocating for policies that tear families apart when they have done nothing wrong.

posted by: Perspective on March 1, 2018  4:14pm

“According to Obama-era guidelines, ICE agents aren’t supposed to raid hospitals, schools or houses of worship, unless they’ve received authorization from supervisors or face an imminent danger. (New Haven activists have used that loophole to create a network of sanctuary churches to shield deportees.)
But, as a new directive issued last month clarified, courthouses have never been on that list of “sensitive locations.”

So exactly where do these protestors think is a suitable place to arrest illegal immigrants? Should they set up appointments for a time that is convenient as well?

posted by: Noteworthy on March 1, 2018  5:42pm

More Notes:

1. BevHills - Nobody is suggesting deporting 10 million people and even if they were - there can be no assumption that human rights or due process will be violated. That’s just an general attack with no basis in fact or even the history of ICE.

2. My wife is an immigrant. Her family came over in four stages - Dad first, then mom, then some kids, then the rest of the kids. They all came legally and within what the law allowed at that time. They waited in line and while it was exceedingly difficult on the family - they did it and they all became naturalized citizens.

3. There is zero reasons why people cannot go through this same process. If they choose to jump the line, they can live with the consequences. If they want their family to stay in the U.S. - then they choose not to take their family with them. We are not throwing out whole families.

4. We all make choices in life. Choices have consequences - legal and illegal, good and bad, better or worse. The problem is people want to break the law and then want to blame the law and the law enforcers for the choices they make.

5. DACA would be a done deal if Democrats actually wanted to solve the problem. But they like the optics of DACA without the solution. That’s BS.

posted by: 1644 on March 1, 2018  7:24pm

Cunning.:  “Impoverished and dangerous”, relative to the US and western Europe, describes the conditions of many of this planet’s people live in, literally billions.  Do you propose opening our borders, and welfare systems, to all who live in such conditions?  Remember, in 1986, we tried amnesty for those already established here, with a promise of increased future enforcement of our laws.  But the left blocked meaningful enforcement measures like e-verify, and the amnesty just encouraged more immigrants in the hop that they too would be allowed to stay.

posted by: TheMadcap on March 1, 2018  10:58pm

“DACA would be a done deal if Democrats actually wanted to solve the problem”

I mean DACA was a policy instituted by a Democratic president so idk what reality you live in

posted by: Marion on March 1, 2018  11:09pm

It’s disturbing to see lawyers from legal aid and Yale directing their efforts at shielding lawbreakers from law enforcement. Aren’t lawyers sworn to respect our laws, and aren’t they prohibited from encouraging and abetting violations of our laws? Going so far as to ask state officials to gag a prosecutor from communicating with ICE - that is nothing short of an attempt to hamper and interfere with law enforcement officers doing their jobs. Is that ethical? As for those protesting ICE taking illegals into custody in or near courthouses, their objection is phony given that the very reason ICE must resort to that is the coordinated acts of city officials (and city cops under orders from city officials) to deny federal law enforcement officers any cooperation or assistance. They declared New Haven a sanctuary city. They refuse to respect detainer requests, allowing criminal illegals to be released back on the streets. They prohibit local cops from cooperating with their federal counterparts. So ICE is left with little choice.  Seems to me the protesters are just pissed that ICE is managing to do its job and enforce our laws DESPITE their interference.

posted by: cunningham on March 2, 2018  10:21am

@1644:

I think there’s been some misunderstanding — I agree with you! The law is the law, and any appeal to abstract, so-called ideals like “protecting the vulnerable” is naive at best and harmful to the integrity of our nation at worst. These activists may think that they’re just shielding people from the draconian blunt end of a bloated and unjust system, but in fact they’re encouraging lawlessness! I’m on your side!

posted by: Noteworthy on March 2, 2018  10:28am

Madcap:

DACA was an executive order - it was not a permanent solution. The goal is a permanent fix. Dems don’t want it - that way they can have another class of victims to represent.