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NY Courts Need 'Bold' Plan to Protect Immigrants from ICE, Official Says

By Katie Honan | June 23, 2017 12:13pm | Updated on June 25, 2017 1:12pm
 Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito joined other elected officials and activists at a rally Thursday
Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito joined other elected officials and activists at a rally Thursday
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

CITY HALL — The court system's administrative office and its chief judge need to act swiftly — and be more bold — in establishing a plan to protect New Yorkers from courthouse interference from federal immigration agents, elected officials and activists said Thursday.

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito blasted the Office of Court Administration, which oversees all courts in the state, for not establishing a plan to prevent ICE agents from courthouse interference.

She said she with the state's Chief Judge Janet DeFiore more than a month ago to discuss ICE agents in the city's courthouses — but they have "not taken the appropriate action."

"I call on ​[OCA] to defend the integrity of the court system, and take a position," she said the rally on the steps of City Hall, adding that "arrests are a shameful, predatory tactic and it makes our city less safe."

The push comes days after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents entered a dedicated court for victims of human trafficking in Queens, with plans to detain a woman who had been arrested for prostitution, officials said.

​Attorneys from Legal Aid were alerted to the agents' presence from the judge, and they asked for bail for the defendant, who was arrested for working illegally as a masseuse.

DeFiore released a statement last week to WNYC saying she was "deeply disturbed" by the presence of ICE agents in human trafficking court.

A spokesman for OCA said the agency has kept a "continued dialogue" with lawyers, as well as federal and local officials, to discuss policy in their courts.

They've also advised judges to let defense attorneys know when ICE agents are present.

"We remain committed to the safety and security of all New Yorkers who use our courthouses throughout the state," OCA spokesman Lucian Chalfan wrote in an emailed statement.

Tina Luongo, the attorney in charge of the criminal practice at Legal Aid, said he and his colleagues are currently looking at the "intersection of city and state law" for ys to keep courts free from federal interference. They don't have a clear plan yet for how they could continue to protect undocumented New Yorkers in court

But Luongo, along with Mark-Viverito and Councilmen Carlos Menchaca and Rory Lancman, hope to have more conversations with the state's court office.

​"When ICE walked into that court it changed the calculus for so many people who are immigrants in our city, trying to make a life for their families," Luongo said.

Hamra Ahmad, the legal director for Her Justice, says fear from the current political climate has created a "rippling effect" for their clients.

They work mostly with immigration, family and matrimonial law — but clients have been afraid to go to court, even if they have temporary immigration status or if it's for something not related to immigration.

"In the past we used to be able to reassure them in ways that we can't any more, and they have to take calculated risks for themselves and their families," she said.