NEW YORK CITY — Federal immigration agents have arrested at least 31 people inside courthouses across the city since February, official court statistics show.
Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have shown up at city courts at least 53 times over the same period, but not always taken someone into custody, according to data collected by the state Office of Court Administration.
However, advocates with the Immigrant Defense Project put the number of arrests from Jan. 1 to Sept. 18 at 40, taking into account arrests or visits that occur just outside the courthouse that are not counted by court officials — including the detention of four men who showed up to face misdemeanor trespassing charges on Sept. 14.
Statewide, ICE agents have arrested 37 people at courthouses and contacted city courts 65 times since February, OCA statistics show.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, citing New York's long history of welcoming immigrants, has denounced the tactic in the past, saying it undermines the criminal justice system. But he acknowledged last week that the practice is rare and encouraged people to continue going to court.
“I’d say there have been very few instances when ICE went into the court buildings, we’re all working to end that practice overall, people should keep participating in the court system," he said.
Court administrators began tracking the arrests in February after the Department of Homeland Security changed its deportation guidelines to include any undocumented immigrant and any non-citizen who had been convicted of or charged with a crime.
For the year to date, arrests at court have nearly quadrupled since 2015, when ICE agents apprehended 14 people statewide, according to the Immigrant Defense Project. The number dropped to 11 last year, advocates said.
Prosecutors have also criticized courthouse arrests, including the recent detentions in Brooklyn and a June raid in Queens in which three people were arrested.
Additionally, an undocumented livery car driver who agreed to testify in a homicide case was detained in June, prompting the Brooklyn District Attorney's office to call for an end of the practice.
"We encounter more and more victims and eyewitnesses to crime who are fearful of moving forward because of immigration status, and we see arrests by ICE spiking in our courthouses, including Family Court and courts dedicated to helping human trafficking victims and those with mental health issues," acting-DA Eric Gonzalez said in August.
The mayor said he encouraged anyone with legal issues to continue going to court, adding that his aim is to extend protections of immigrants to courthouses.
“My goal is for New York City is the folks that are here who are New Yorkers, whether they’re undocumented or not, they can fully participated in the life of New York City," de Blasio said. "Going to school, have their kids go to school, go to public hospital, go talk to the police when they need the police, we got to make that that continues including in our court system."
Representatives of ICE did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the latest arrests.
According to an email, the entire ICE press team was unavailable for the whole week starting Sept. 18 for a staff training, and contact with the agency’s representatives was sporadic.
Caroline Spivack contributed reporting.