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ICE should be barred from ‘sensitive locations’

Under the Trump administration, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement is arresting people at local courthouses around the United States. See, for example, arrests at a Denver courthouse, despite local leaders’ requests (

ICE officers are going into courtrooms to identify particular individuals, waiting for them to leave the courtroom or courthouse and arresting them outside based on identifying them in the courtroom. In Albuquerque in February, ICE arrested a woman in the women’s bathroom at Metro Court. In El Paso, ICE arrested a woman who went to the courthouse to seek a domestic violence restraining order.

Arresting defendants, their family members and friends, victims and witnesses who come to testify or seek domestic violence restraining orders, or persons reporting to probation officers makes our whole community less safe because some members of the community are afraid to cooperate with law enforcement and the court system. This affects U.S. citizens also because someone who has been a witness to a crime or other event is afraid to come to court to testify.

ICE has been seen at schools in Albuquerque and Las Cruces.

So our neighbors are afraid to report crimes when they are victims or witnesses, afraid to accompany family members to court, afraid to take their children to school, and afraid to seek needed medical care.

At present the only statutory protection against arrests at what have been termed “sensitive locations” covers very limited service providers and doesn’t protect against arrests.

In 2011, ICE wrote a policy designating certain “sensitive locations” in which arrests are restricted, such as schools, hospitals, religious institutions, sites of a funeral, wedding, or other public religious ceremony, and sites of public demonstrations. It does not include courthouses. Further, that policy creates no enforceable right.

Now it is important that “sensitive locations” where ICE ought not to be effecting arrests, except in very narrow and vetted circumstances, need to be defined by statute, not just by policy statements that can be changed at the whim of the president or appointed agency staff.

Recently, along with immigration advocates and ACLU, I met with two ICE officers, the Albuquerque office head and his boss from El Paso. I asked about ICE arrests at courthouses, using the court process to identify individuals, and the disruption this causes to the judicial process when victims, witnesses, defendants, family members and others are afraid to participate in the court process. The ICE officials responded that courthouses are public places, ICE arrests there are targeted in advance for particular individuals, and such arrests will continue to occur. This same view is expressed on the ICE website.

Another question at that meeting concerned arrests at probation and parole offices, and the two ICE officials said they have close cooperation with our state probation and parole agencies and work with the N.M. Corrections Department; this also happens around the country.

Therefore those who believe it is important that everyone have access to the judicial system as a fair way to resolve disputes, please support two bills now pending in the U.S. Congress, both called the Protecting Sensitive Locations Act, which declare a variety of locations such as hospitals, schools, school buses, religious institutions, Social Security offices, domestic violence shelters, motor vehicle offices, and courthouses as sensitive locations where ICE cannot make arrests within 1,000 feet without “exigent circumstances” and only with prior approval.

Senate Bill S.845, and House Bill H.R.1815 are both titled Protecting Sensitive Locations Act.

U.S. Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Luján and Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall (all Democrats) have each co-sponsored these bills and should be thanked for their concern about the civil liberties of all New Mexicans. (Republican) Rep. Steve Pearce should also co-sponsor them. We all need to be able to utilize the judicial system to resolve disputes, so that all in our community can be safe.

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