Chief Justice Objects to Immigration Enforcement Tactics at California Courthouses

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SACRAMENTO — California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has expressed concerns about recent reports of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents arresting undocumented immigrants in courthouses.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye

On March 16, Cantil-Sakauye sent the following letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to ask that the practice be stopped:

“As chief justice of California responsible for the safe and fair delivery of justice in our state, I am deeply concerned about reports from some of our trial courts that immigration agents appear to be stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests.

“Our courthouses serve as a vital forum for ensuring access to justice and protecting public safety. Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws.

“Our 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.

“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.

“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.

“Each layer of government – federal, state, and local – provides a portion of the fabric of our society that preserves law and order and protects the rights and freedoms of the people. The separation of powers and checks and balances at the various levels and branches of government ensure the harmonious existence of the rule of law.

“The federal and state governments share power in countless ways, and our roles and responsibilities are balanced for the public good. As officers of the court, we judges uphold the constitutions of both the United States and California, and the executive branch does the same by ensuring that our 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. I respectfully request that you refrain from this sort of enforcement in California’s courthouses.”

In San Francisco, District Attorney George Gascon, Public Defender Jeff Adachi and City Attorney Dennis Herrera issued a joint statement “in unified support of Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye’s request that ICE refrain from operating immigration dragnets at California courthouses.”

In a joint response made public on Friday, Sessions and Kelly objected to Cantil-Sakauye’s use of the word “stalking” because it “has a specific legal meaning in American law, which describes criminal activity involving repetitive following or harassment of the victim with the intent to produce fear of harm.”

The two defended their departments’ practices, stating, “Some jurisdictions, including the State of California and many of its largest counties and cities, have enacted statutes and ordinances designed to specifically prohibit or hinder ICE from enforcing immigration law. Agents are required to locate and arrest these aliens in public places, rather than in secure jail facilities.”

Since arrests in public places can be dangerous, they argued, “the safety risks for the arresting officers and persons being arrested are substantially decreased” if the arrests are made in courthouses after visitors have been screened by security.

They added, “To be clear, the arrest of individuals … is predicated on investigation and targeting of specific persons who have been identified by ICE and other law enforcement agencies as subjects to arrest for violations of federal law.”

Cantil-Sakauye responded, “I appreciate the prompt letter and their admission that they are in state courthouses making federal arrests. However, making arrests at courthouses, in my view, undermines public safety because victims and witnesses will fear coming to courthouses to help enforce the law. I am disappointed that despite local and state public safety issues at stake, courthouses are not on ICE’s ‘sensitive areas’ list that includes schools, churches, and hospitals.”

Immigration Information

On Feb. 1, Cantil-Sakauye announced the creation of a California Immigration Information Resource Workgroup to address the concerns and confusion among many Californians about what immigration resources are available to support them.

The workgroup co-chairs, all Judicial Council of California members, are Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Dalila Corral Lyons and San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Samuel K. Feng. They have been tasked with aggregating existing immigration resources available in California, developing new resources when appropriate, and disseminating these resources effectively and efficiently via the courts, legal associations, and other interested businesses and groups.

“We all deserve access to our civil and constitutional rights, and a critical part of that process is having access to the information necessary for us to exercise those rights,” said Cantil-Sakauye. “This is one reason why civic literacy in our state is so important. Unequal access to information is fundamentally unfair to those facing the uncertainty and anxiety over federal immigration practices and procedures.”

Lyons and Feng will work with workgroup members and Judicial Council staff to lead this nonpartisan effort to collect and share information and resources available from federal, state, local, and non-governmental entities in California.

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