Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Nearly 250 New Mexico attorneys and several retired justices and judges signed a petition asking the New Mexico Supreme Court to put in place new rules that would make it harder for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to detain people believed to be in the country illegally at state courthouses.
On Wednesday, a group of advocates for immigrants gathered outside the Metropolitan Courthouse with petitions that included hundreds of signatures. Petitioners are asking for a court order prohibiting ICE agents from enforcing administrative warrants in and around courts. Instead, they would have to obtain judicial warrants that are signed by a judge.
ICE agents often make arrests under the authority of an administrative warrant that is written by an agent, and not a judge, said Mariá Martinez Sanchez, a staff attorney for the ACLU.
The petition also asks for a rule that would allow a court to issue writs of protection for individuals who fear they may be subject to civil detention at or near a courthouse.
Retired state Supreme Court justices Richard Bosson and Edward Chavez and retired state court judges Susan Conway, Eugenio Mathis and Peggy Nelson signed the petition, along with about 40 law firms, several legal associations and other community and faith-based organizations.
Joseph Sanchez, a public defender, said ICE’s current practices in New Mexico and other states has had a “chilling effect” on the immigrant community. Many people are afraid to either cooperate as a witness or victim in a case, or show up to court to handle minor manners like parking or speeding tickets, he said.
“We know of people who are not showing up for court because they are afraid of being ripped from the children’s arms,” said Martinez Sanchez. The ACLU was one of several organizations that circulated the petition, which contains several anecdotes about anonymous immigrants who were said to have been arrested in or near courthouses.
ICE’s website said that it follows procedures similar to those used by other law enforcement agencies when it comes to making arrests in courthouses.
A spokeswoman for ICE provided the Journal with a January memo outlining policies its agents should follow within courthouses.
It says that federal, state and local law enforcement throughout the country engage in law enforcement activity inside courthouses and said that doing so can reduce the threat to public safety because people are typically screened by security when entering courthouses.
The memo said ICE agents should try to avoid confronting suspected illegal immigrants in places like family court and small claims court, and that they should not target people like family members who may be with a suspected illegal immigrant during a court appearance.
A spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Courts said that the Supreme Court hasn’t issued a formal order regarding federal enforcement inside state courthouses.
The petition included an index that listed 25 incidents in which immigrants were arrested in or near courthouses since 2017.
In many of the instances cited, the defendants were arrested on suspicion of being in the country illegally after they had reported to court for preliminary matters and hadn’t been adjudicated.
Most of the cases cited on the index do not mention specific charges that required the immigrants to make court appearances, but among the ones that do, one involved drug trafficking, five involved DWIs and two were for traffic violations only.