NEW YORK CITY — Local members of Congress on Friday sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security saying they are "profoundly concerned" that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents do not have a policy against visiting courthouses in hopes of arresting and deporting crime victims.
The move comes after agents appeared in a specialized court in Queens last month looking for a victim of human trafficking, officials said.
The politicians — including Rep. Nydia Velázquez, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Rep. Joe Crowley and Rep. Grace Meng — signed on to a letter sent Friday to the Department of Homeland Security saying they were worried about the presence of agents in human trafficking court.
In June, ICE agents were inside the human trafficking court in Queens Criminal Court looking for a Chinese woman, officials said. Her lawyers posted her bail, fearing she would be detained.
"In the United States, immigrant communities are particularly vulnerable to forced labor and sex work through human trafficking," the politicians wrote.
"We are concerned that sending ICE personnel to specialized institutions or courts designed to assist human trafficking victims will deter others from coming forward and seeking assistance for fear of facing detainment or deportment by immigration officials."
In the letter, the politicians asked about ICE's policy on deporting sex trafficking victims, and if they'll revise their policy to make courts a sensitive location.
READ THE FULL LETTER
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A spokesman for ICE said agents generally appear in courthouses "only after investigating officers have exhausted other options."
They also appear in court for people who have been difficult to track down, as "a courthouse may afford the most likely opportunity to locate a target and take him or her into custody."
"In such instances where deportation officers seek to conduct an arrest at a courthouse, every effort is made to take the person into custody in a secure area, out of public view, but this is not always possible," spokesman Khaalid Walls said in an email to DNAinfo on Friday.
But Velázquez, who spearheaded the letter, said any court interference is "simply unconscionable," especially around a vulnerable population like human trafficking victims.
“Tactics like this could well mean that other victims of trafficking are less likely to step out of the shadows and seek help they might otherwise obtain," she told DNAinfo in an email.
"We are demanding a clear explanation of DHS’ and ICE’s policies when it comes to victims of trafficking.”