KEW GARDENS — Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested three people outside the Queens Criminal Courthouse on Friday, with activists and the chief judge saying they also planned to arrest a woman from a court for human trafficking victims.
ICE agents were inside the courthouse looking for a young woman from China who was charged for working illegally as a masseuse, according to WNYC.
She was being tried in human trafficking court, which aims to provide alternative sentences to possible sex workers — who are often victims of sex trafficking or other crimes, according to court officials.
Lawyers from Legal Aid protected the woman from ICE agents by asking the judge for bail so she could leave the courthouse, according to WNYC.
Rachel Yong Yow, a spokeswoman for ICE, confirmed they arrested three people outside of the courthouse from a “targeted enforcement action” but didn’t arrest anyone inside human trafficking intervention court.
She could not comment further on the nature of the enforcement action, or if ICE agents were inside the courthouse.
ICE policy directs agents away from enforcement in sensitive locations, unless they have prior approval from a supervisor of there are “exigent circumstances,” agency officials said.
But the presence of the agents inside the courthouse rattled many, including Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who told WNYC in a statement she was “greatly concerned” by their presence.
"We are committed to the safety and security of all New Yorkers who use our courthouses throughout the state," she said. "In a continuing dialogue, we have met with federal officials on a local and national level to convey our concerns and request that they treat courthouses as sensitive locations, similar to schools, hospitals and places of worship.”
Borough President Melinda Katz said the presence of ICE agents “severely disrupts and obstructs justice.”
“Trafficked sex workers are exploited victims, not criminals,” she wrote in a statement. “The double victimization of these women is extremely troubling and unacceptable.”
ICE agents have had an increased presence at courthouses around the city since President Donald J. Trump took office, according to Legal Aid.
“We are deeply troubled over yesterday’s arrests and ICE’s continued surveillance and presence at area courthouses,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “It’s been months and the Office of Court Administration has yet to devise any plan to thwart ICE intimidation and arrests at city courts. We need concrete action from OCA immediately to stop these raids.”
A spokesman for OCA could not immediately be reached for comment.