​ICE agents arrest unauthorized immigrants at NJ courthouses

A growing number of unauthorized immigrants have been picked up inmunicipal courts.

By Brenda Flanagan

Immigration attorney Michael Noriega told the Assembly Judiciary Committee how ICE agents stalked and arrested his 19-year-old client — a so-called DREAMer — after a court hearing for DUI.

“An SUV pulls across the intersection and several individuals jump out. One of them places their hand on my chest and pushes me back, they grab my client, they put him up against the vehicle and they arrest him,” Noriega said.

Noriega says his client is now in removal proceedings. Advocates report ICE has picked up six unauthorized immigrants at state courts over the past five months — but even more in municipal courts using federal immigration warrants not issued by judges, Noriega says.

“Just the fact that they’re here, undocumented, they may issue those warrants to come after them and use our courts as a mechanism to make that happen more easily,” Noriega said.

“I can tell you personally, I have had several clients who were arrested in municipal court,” said Attorney Susan Roy.

Roy says one unauthorized immigrant, who’s eligible for a special visa because he helped law enforcement solve a crime, got picked up in traffic court and faced deportation. But statistics are hard to get.

“More and more it’s happening at the municipal court level and I think that’s where the real problem lies, because generally speaking people who have municipal court matters are less violent or less serious criminal offenders, or perhaps aren’t criminal offenders at all,” Roy said.

A request from New Jersey’s Supreme Court chief justice to stop making courthouse arrests has obviously not deterred ICE. The result? A chilling effect on victims and witnesses, advocates claim.

“A victim of domestic violence contacted us. She wanted to know the likelihood of ICE coming to arrest her if she went to file for a restraining order,” said Sara Cullinane, state director of Make the Road New Jersey.

“We can’t expect people to come forward as witnesses or victims if they’re afraid that ICE will arrest and deport them,” said Jeanna LoCicero, ACLU-NJ deputy legal director.

Advocates say ICE can make detainer requests asking county jails to hold unauthorized immigrants until agents can get there to arrest them and some New Jersey counties want to assist ICE.

“In the past year, three county sheriff’s offices and a county department of corrections in New Jersey have enrolled in a partnership with ICE,” Staff Attorney for the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence Deanna Dyer said.

But even if counties refuse, suspects waiting for a judge to decide on bail under New Jersey’s recent reforms could end up detained by ICE.

“Now they report as undocumented and they go right to ICE detention regardless of whether or not ordinarily they would’ve been given pre-trial release,” said Assemblyman John McKeon. As an unintended consequence? “Absolutely so,” he said, “and those numbers are going to be big.”

ICE stated it does not track court arrests, meanwhile the tangle of jurisdictions prompted one law maker to observe.

“The simplest solution is to obey the law. If you’re here illegally, go home. If you’re the victim of domestic abuse just think how safe you’ll be if you’re thousands of miles away from your American citizen abuser,” said Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll.

The committee wants to gather more information and explore possible solutions, but lawmakers admit there’s not much a state legislature can do about a federal issue.