16 retired Arizona judges, others tell ICE to stop courthouse arrests

The Pima County Courthouse at dusk. In 2017, ICE agents arrested a man who was in court to face a minor drug crime./ Photo by James Charnesky /Flickr


By Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

A group of 68 retired judges from 23 states sent a letter Wednesday to the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement urging the agency to stop arrests at courthouses. Among those judges were 16 from Arizona, including two former chief justices of the Arizona Supreme Court.

In the letter, the former judges said ICE arrests at state and local courthouses are disrupting the nation’s justice system and undermining public confidence in it.

Citing reports from several states, including New York, Colorado, California and Texas, the judges said “there has been a dramatic increase in ICE presence in courthouses over the last two years.”

“Persons arrested include defendants facing criminal charges, survivors of domestic violence, persons disputing traffic tickets, and parents seeking to protect their children from unsafe living conditions,” the judges wrote. “ICE has arrested people in criminal court, family court, and even a diversion court for victims of human trafficking.”

In the past, ICE has defended this practice by saying that, like other law enforcement agencies, it, too, conducts operations inside courthouses. The agency says those are “often necessitated” because of “the unwillingness of jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the transfer of custody of aliens from their prisons and jails.”

ICE has a policy of steering away its enforcement operations from sensitive locations, which includes schools, colleges and universities; hospitals and health-care facilities; places of worship; and public demonstrations like rallies and parades.

The retired judges urged ICE to add courthouses to its sensitive location policy.

“We understand that ICE favors courthouse arrests because it considers courts to be safe environments where officers are confident they can operate without danger,” the judges wrote. “But it is exactly that sense of safety that we as judges tried to foster for anyone seeking access to justice, and that we believe ICE’s courthouse activities put at risk.”

While public reports of these ICE arrests in Arizona courthouses have been few (the Los Angeles Times reported on a case in Phoenix in 2017 and the Arizona Daily Star wrote about another in Pima County), immigration attorney Jose Vazquez said they do happen.

Vazquez, who chairs the Arizona chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said ICE arrests at courthouses interfere with “justice as a whole” as a chilling effect spreads in immigrant communities.

“The courthouse is meant to be a place where justice is found.  But, when it is used as a place to pick the lowest hanging political fruit, justice is averted and everyone loses,” he said.

These are the retired judges in Arizona who signed the letter to ICE:


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December 2018