(ENGLISH) ICE detained an undocumented immigrant in criminal court Tuesday, leading to a protest of ICE detention practices. The debate over whether New York’s courthouses should limit cooperation with federal immigration agents escalated Tuesday, when dozens of public defenders walked outside of Brooklyn criminal court to protest an immigrant’s arrest inside the building.
Genaro Rojas-Hernandez was charged earlier this month with punching a woman in violation of a court order. He was waiting in the eighth floor hallway of the Brooklyn courthouse for a hearing on Tuesday when he was apprehended by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
Legal Aid lawyer Jane Sampeur said she witnessed the incident. The defendant was represented by another Legal Aid attorney.
News that ICE was in the Brooklyn misdemeanor courthouse on Tuesday spread quickly among public defenders through texts, emails and social media. The lawyers and their allies walked out shortly after noon for a spontaneous protest with their union.
ICE has arrested at least 39 people in city courts this year, according to the Office of Court Administration. The agency has no comparison numbers from last year. However, immigration advocates believe there has been a big increase since President Trump took office.
After WNYC reported on an attempt by ICE officers to arrest a woman in a human trafficking intervention court last spring, immigration advocates and City Council members called on the courts to limit their cooperation with ICE. They feared that defendants would be too afraid to attend their court hearings. But the Office of Court Administration insists the courts are public buildings.
ICE spokeswoman Rachael Yong Yow said courthouse arrests are necessary because of so-called sanctuary city policies like those in New York. The city’s local law enforcement agencies won’t honor requests from ICE to detain people in their custody unless they’ve been convicted of serious crimes.
“ICE does not consider courthouses sensitive locations,” said Yong Yow. “The agency complies fully with all prevailing jurisdictional court policies and makes efforts to exhaust all other avenues before effecting a courthouse arrest.”