In the wake of a Pasadena immigration courthouse arrest and other reported incidents throughout California, the state’s chief justice has asked the Trump administration to stop immigration agents from “stalking” California’s courthouses to arrest illegal immigrants.
Writing to Attorney-General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly Thursday, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said courthouses serve as a vital forum for ensuring access to justice and protecting public safety, and they “should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws.”
“Most Americans have more daily contact with their state and local governments than with the federal government, and I am concerned about the impact on public trust and confidence in our state court system if the public feels that our state institutions are being used to facilitate other goals and objectives, no matter how expedient they may be,” the Chief Justice wrote.
Cantil-Sakauye also stressed that the federal and state governments have balanced roles and responsibilities, with courts upholding the constitutions of both the United States and the state, and the executive branch ensuring that laws are fairly and safely enforced.
“But enforcement policies that include stalking courthouses and arresting undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom pose no risk to public safety, are neither safe nor fair. They not only compromise our core value of fairness but they undermine the judiciary’s ability to provide equal access to justice,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “I respectfully request that you refrain from this sort of enforcement in California’s courthouses.”
The Chief Justice did not refer to any particular court or incident, but on February 21, at the Pasadena courthouse, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested a man whom federal officials said was a Mexican national who had been previously deported and had a prior felony conviction for drug trafficking.
Local lawyers called the incident “unusual,” and the man’s attorney, Los Angeles criminal lawyer Octavio Chaidez, said the ICE agents were clearly stalking his client.
Chaidez had written other local lawyers about the incident, warning that if ICE was going stake out court hearings to locate, confront and arrest targeted individuals, people could decide to stop attending court proceedings.
Last month, Virginia Kice, Western Regional Communications Director/Spokesperson for ICE, said the agents arrested the unidentified man at the Pasadena courthouse after earlier efforts to locate him at a residence or place of employment proved unsuccessful.
The Los Angeles Times also reported other incidents where immigration agents have swept into courtrooms in other California locations as well as in Arizona, Texas, and Colorado in recent weeks.
In her letter, Cantil-Sakauye also stressed that California’s courts are “the main point of contact for millions of the most vulnerable Californians in times of anxiety, stress, and crises in their lives.”
“Crime victims, victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, witnesses to crimes who are aiding law enforcement, limited-English speakers, unrepresented litigants, and children and families all come to our courts seeking justice and due process of law,” she said. “As finders of fact, trial courts strive to mitigate fear to ensure fairness and protect legal rights. Our work is critical for ensuring public safety and the efficient administration of justice.”