Testimony on ICE in the courthouse

Good Afternoon. My name is Fryda Guedes and I am the Director of Immigration and Civic Engagement at the Hispanic Federation. Chair Lancman and committee members, thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of Hispanic Federation and the more than 60 Latino-led community based organizations we represent in New York.

I would like to thank the NYC Council’s Committee on Courts and Legal Services for bringing us together today and affording our community of immigrants and Latino advocates the opportunity to express our concerns over Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers in our courthouses. As a leader in the Latino community, Hispanic Federation joins LatinoJustice in calling on the City Council to urge Chief Judge DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Marks to protect immigrant New Yorkers and their families and restore trust in the state court system.

For more than two decades now, the Federation has been working tirelessly to advocate for the passage of humane and fair immigration reform in our nation’s capital. Our mission has been to protect vulnerable and disenfranchised immigrants from falling prey to our unjust and broken immigration system. However, recent directives from the federal government have magnified the scope and impact of immigration enforcement in this nation, increasing fears and anxieties in the immigrant community regarding the presence of ICE officers in safe spaces. Among the safe spaces being threatened by ICE officer presence are state courthouses, which have long been spaces for all Americans to claim legal recourse and relief, regardless of immigration status.

Since February 2017, ICE officers have reportedly been showing up unannounced to courthouses in Texas, Florida, Colorado, and New York. In New York State alone, there have been 38 ICE apprehensions and attempted apprehensions near or at a courthouse - of those, 19 apprehensions and 9 attempted apprehensions have taken place in New York City. ICE agents have allegedly approached individuals once they have left the courtroom - not only in the hallways, but also outside on the front steps, and even as individuals exit the building and walk towards a subway station. These agents are showing up unannounced and sometimes without a warrant.

It is no surprise that our immigrants now fear the courthouse - and, by association, they also fear accessing our legal justice system. Hispanic Federation recently launched a public education campaign focused on teaching immigrants about their rights in this country. We received thousands of phone calls from concerned immigrants across New York City. Over 20% of the immigrants that called us expressed apprehension over their safety when travelling to government buildings. Our callers were afraid that they would not be protected from immigration officers in traffic court, criminal court, small claims court, and more.

We are aware that many of the immigrants that have called our hotline have chosen to miss court dates out of fear of being apprehended by ICE. In fact, the immigrant community has shown increased fear and hesitancy in reporting crimes out of fear of repercussions due to their immigration status. This disengagement with the American justice system is a grave matter, especially when the affected individuals are victims of domestic violence or assault. Not appearing before the court impairs the effectiveness of our justice system and undermines the safety of all New Yorkers.

In our over 25-year history, Hispanic Federation has supported millions of Hispanic children, youth and families via broad-based coalitions that advance civil rights and social change policies locally, statewide and nationally. We have helped more than 50,000 immigrants learn English and become citizens, served over 300,000 Latinos through our comprehensive immigration services and widespread public education outreach, provided more than 10,000 DACA-eligible youth with application assistance, and resolved around 9,000 calls a year through our immigration hotline. We know our community well. Immigrants in our city and state want to build better lives for themselves and their families through education and work opportunities. By permitting ICE presence at or near courthouses, we are shutting out some of the most vulnerable members of our society who are in need of judicial recourse.

As a sanctuary city our goal should be to protect immigrants from being detained or deported. The Federation strongly encourages the NYC Council to protect hundreds of individuals who are not receiving the specific protections they deserve. We ask that the Office of Court Administration (OCA) deem all NYS courthouses “sensitive locations,” that they promulgate a policy barring ICE agents from making arrests in NYS courthouses, and that OCA court employees be prohibited from assisting and cooperating with ICE agents. We need to work together to eliminate the barriers that prevent immigrants in our communities from reporting crime, participating in the courts, and performing their civic duties.

Thank you.