Dec. 16, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation Tuesday that bars federal immigration officers from making arrests inside or outside state courthouses without a warrant – a move hailed by immigration advocates.
The Protect Our Courts Act seeks to address concerns that undocumented immigrants were being targeted for immigration offenses by ICE agents while attending state court. This tactic, advocates said, deterred them from attending court and was therefore impeding justice proceedings.
“Unlike this federal government, New York has always protected our immigrant communities,” Cuomo said. “This legislation will ensure every New Yorker can have their day in court without fear of being unfairly targeted by ICE or other federal immigration authorities.”
The legislation, which passed in July and was co-sponsored by State Sen. Michael Gianaris, prevents federal immigration authorities from making arrests inside or outside state courthouses without a warrant signed by a federal judge. The law prevents ICE from arresting immigrants going to or leaving a court proceeding.
The law does not prohibit an arrest warrant that has been authorized by a judge. Instead, it blocks warrantless immigration-related arrests or those based on administrative warrants.
Immigration advocates say that ICE agents have been increasingly showing up at courthouses to target people who were appearing in non-immigration cases – either as a party, witness, or family member. They say that such instances have increased under the Trump administration.
For example, a report by the immigrant group The Immigrant Defense Project found that there were 176 arrests and attempted arrests at New York courthouses in 2019 compared to just 15 in 2016 – the year before Trump took office.
Make The Road New York, an immigrant advocacy group with an office in Jackson Heights, said that the law marks a critical win for New York immigrants and will protect them from President Donald Trump’s “deportation machine.”
“It puts an end to its abusive tactics that instilled fear and hindered immigrants from full equal access to our courts,” the group said in a statement Tuesday.