SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Seeking to halt federal agents from arresting people in courthouses for immigration violations, a panel of judges in Oregon has asked the state's Supreme Court chief justice to impose a rule stating that no one should be subjected to arrest without a warrant.
Several judges on the Uniform Trial Court Rules Committee said Friday the matter is of urgent concern because immigrants, even legal residents, are afraid to go to court because of fear they will be detained by U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement agents.
The agents have been detaining people who appear for court proceedings and are suspected of being in the United States illegally. In one incident, captured in a videotape shown by lawyers to the committee, ICE agents pepper-sprayed family members of a person they were trying to arrest. That incident happened in a courthouse in Astoria, Oregon.
The committee voted in favor of recommending to Oregon Chief Justice Martha Walters that she establish a rule that anyone inside a courthouse or in the immediate area be safe from arrest by immigration agents if they don't have a judicial warrant.
Some of the judges on the committee, though, worried that this could set up an armed confrontation with county sheriff's deputies who provide court security and federal agents.
"I don't know how we would handle that situation, honestly," said Judge Lung Hung of Malheur County Circuit Court. "It's the enforcement that concerns me."
Leland Baxter-Neal, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Oregon, said he did not envision that deputies would be tackling federal agents to prevent them from arresting immigrants in courthouses. Violations of the rule, if it is adopted by Walters, would be presented as evidence if the detainee was taken to immigration court.
Baxter-Neal also said that in jurisdictions that have adopted similar rules, ICE has respected them, and that he expected they would also be respected in Oregon.
ICE spokeswoman Tanya Roman said the idea that a state law can bind the hands of a federal law enforcement agency is wrong. She said federal law provides ICE officers the authority to arrest people who are in the country illegally without a judicial warrant.
"In fact, no judge in this country has the authority to issue a warrant for a civil immigration violation. Congress, by statute, vested this authorization solely to supervisory immigration officers," Roman said in an email.
The New York State Office of Court Administration in April issued rules curtailing the ability of federal immigration officials to arrest immigrants in state courthouses without warrants. Courts in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Mexico have limited or blocked ICE from conducting courthouse arrests, according to Innovation Law Lab, a Portland firm that is pressing for the rules in Oregon. In California, a law was signed this week that will prohibit ICE arrests at courts, Innovation Law Lab said.
The issue is paramount because immigration enforcement efforts, which have increased under the Trump administration, are affecting the justice system, said Deschutes County Circuit Court Judge Wells Ashby, a committee member.
"A court needs to be a place where everyone feels they're welcome," Ashby said. "It has to be a safe space where we listen to people."
Baxter-Neal cited the example of a legal permanent resident telling him he is afraid to go to court to pay a parking ticket.
Even an interpreter contracted by the Oregon Justice Department said she leery of going to and from a court, according to statements provided to the committee.
The ACLU of Oregon, Innovation Law Lab and the Portland law firm of Stoll Berne sought to have the committee make a more sweeping recommendation to Walters: That anyone traveling to and from a courthouse on court business be protected from arrest by federal agents without a warrant. But some of the judges on the panel said that was too vague and could be interpreted to mean that a person would potentially be protected on a journey of hundreds of miles.
The attorneys submitted the proposed rule on behalf of immigrants' rights and court advocates including Adelante Mujeres, Causa Oregon and the Victim Rights Law Center.
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