The New York State Office of Court Administration issued new rules Wednesday curtailing the ability of federal immigration officials to arrest immigrants in state courthouses without warrants.
The rules are the latest development in the ongoing controversy over the presence of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in state and local courthouses to arrest immigrants appearing there on unrelated cases.
The directive requires ICE agents to show a federal judicial warrant or order to a New York judge or court attorney before the arrest.
"This rule change is a big win for thousands of immigrants and their families across New York State who will no longer be sitting ducks in the courtroom," said Terry Lawson, director of the Family and Immigration Unit at Bronx Legal Services, the Bronx office of Legal Services NYC, in a statement. "We can now advise the women, men, and children we represent that ICE cannot arrest them in New York State courts without a warrant with their name on it, signed by a judge."
ICE agents often rely on administrative warrants that are issued by the agency rather than judicial warrants, approved by a court.
Under the Trump administration, there has been a sharp increase in the number of immigrant arrests by ICE in New York state courthouses. In 2016, there were 11 arrests. Last year, there were 178 arrests, according to a report by the Immigrant Defense Project. The majority of the arrest reports came from New York City.
The report say ICE courthouse operations discourage noncitizens from reporting crimes, including domestic abuse and human trafficking, and pursuing civil remedies such as in cases of tenant-landlord conflicts.
"Judges can't do their jobs unless people come to court," said Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks as quoted by The Associated Press.
ICE did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Late last year, dozens of former state and federal judges called on ICE to consider courthouses as "sensitive locations" that are usually off-limits to immigration agents.
In January, ICE issued a memo saying "officers and agents will conduct enforcement actions discreetly to minimize their impact on court proceedings." But, it added, "courthouse arrests are often necessitated by the unwillingness of jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the transfer of custody of aliens from their prisons and jails."