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Lawyers and advocates sue ICE over arrests

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico prosecutors, defense attorneys and immigrant rights advocates have joined together to ask a federal court to prevent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from detaining people who are conducting business at state courthouses.

The state Attorney General’s Office, the 1st Judicial District Attorney’s Office and the Law Offices of the Public Defender filed the suit against ICE and Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday. Advocate groups New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Enlace Communitario and El Centro de Igualidad and Derechos are also listed as plaintiffs. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and Albuquerque law firms Martinez, Hart, Thompson and Sanchez, and Freedman, Boyd, Hollander, Goldberg, Urias and Ward.

Not only do the arrests put people in fear, advocates say, but prosecutors and defense attorneys say they make it harder to move forward with cases because witnesses and crime victims are afraid to go to court.

“The current courthouse arrest policy that ICE relies on to indiscriminately arrest immigrants in and around state courthouses serves no purpose but to frighten people and chill access to our courts,” ACLU lawyer Maria Martinez Sanchez said in a virtual news conference Wednesday. “And when people are too scared to go to court, community safety suffers, as does the confidence in our system of justice.”

An ICE spokeswoman said the organization doesn’t comment on pending litigation, but did provide a general statement to the Journal.

“As part of the Department of Homeland Security’s homeland security mission, our trained law enforcement professionals adhere to the Department’s mission and values, and uphold our laws while continuing to provide the nation with safety and security,” Leticia Zamarripa said in an email.

State Chief Public Defender Ben Baur said the LOPD has at least 30 documented instances between February 2017 and April 2019 in which someone was detained by immigration authorities in or outside a courthouse in Albuquerque or Santa Fe.

In August 2018, a LOPD client was detained outside of a Metropolitan Court courtroom in front of an attorney.

“They were in plainclothes, and they did not identify themselves,” Baur said of the arresting agents.

Baur said that in March 2019, another client was detained while walking to their car outside of Metro Court.

According to ICE’s civil policy on immigration enforcement inside courthouses, enacted in January 2018, action will be taken against “specific, targeted aliens with criminal convictions, gang members, national security or public safety threats, aliens who have been ordered removed from the United States but have failed to depart, and aliens who have re-entered the country illegally after being removed …”

In April 2019, the state Supreme Court denied a petition signed by hundreds of lawyers and advocacy organizations, as well as five retired state Supreme Court justices, to require federal immigration agents to have a judicial warrant based on probable cause before they arrest undocumented immigrants in or around state courthouses.

During the 2020 Legislative Session, Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez introduced a bill that would prohibit law enforcement from arresting parties to a case, including witnesses and victims, on courthouse property or as they’re traveling to or leaving a courthouse, unless a judicial warrant for arrest has been issued.

The bill died early in the session, but Sedillo Lopez told the Journal Wednesday that’s she’s going to rework the bill and introduce it again next year.