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Governor objects to ICE arrests at courthouse

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday raised concerns over reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are making arrests in and around the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse.

Immigrants rights advocates said Thursday that ICE activity had slowed for months after the court implemented a policy limiting the circumstances in which arrests can be made on courthouse property. But they say they are worried it may be ramping up again after agents last week detained three people in and around the courthouse.

In the fall, the court implemented a policy that no local, state or federal law enforcement officers “may arrest, detain, interrogate, hold, restrict, or in any way, hinder the freedom of any individual in the courthouse except by lawful court order or judicial arrest warrant or when it is necessary to secure immediate public safety.”

In a Wednesday letter to Metro Court Chief Judge Sandra Engel, the governor and her general counsel Matthew Garcia expressed their “support for the enforcement” of the policy. People who are participating in judicial proceedings should not worry about legal reprisal “when fulfilling their civic and legal obligations,” they wrote.

But Garcia and Lujan Grisham wrote that they are concerned about reports that ICE is arresting and detaining New Mexico residents in the courthouse and on neighboring grounds, though the letter doesn’t point to specific instances.

“We question the propriety and legality of these actions, and we respectfully ask your honor … to enforce the operative access policy,” the letter said.

“We stand ready to assist you in any way necessary,” the letter said.

Asked how the court has gone about enforcing the policy, Court Executive Officer Robert Padilla said, “We just basically made it available to all law enforcement agencies and made them aware of it.”

Padilla said thousands of people visit the courthouse every day and officials can’t really track who is in the building.

Although the court doesn’t plan to ask the governor for help, Padilla said, officials are pleased to know she supports the policy.

Maria Martinez Sanchez, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said she was also happy to see the governor weighing in on the issue amid a series of arrests last week.

Justin Remer-Thamert, director of the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice, said he watched immigration officials take two men out of Metro Court last week after hearings related to misdemeanor charges. He said one was later found to have legal status and released.

And Martinez Sanchez said a third person was arrested as she walked to court to take care of a speeding ticket. It was not clear whether she was on courthouse property.

An ICE spokeswoman was not immediately able to confirm those detentions.

Sanchez said the warrants ICE normally uses are administrative, not the judicial arrest warrants that Metro Court’s policy requires.

She said there are many reasons for people to go to the courthouse, and the threat of ICE action keeps them away.

“If people are afraid to show up at court, whether it’s as a defendant or a witness or as a supportive family member,” she said, “the only thing that does is undermine public safety.”