HILLSBORO — Immigrant rights advocates are looking for legal and political help to prevent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from detaining people at county courthouses.
ICE has a policy that discourages enforcement actions at sensitive locations such as schools, hospitals and churches. Some in Congress, including U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon, want to codify the policy into federal law and expand it to apply to courthouses.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon announced Monday that it would take legal action against ICE on behalf of Isidro Andrade-Tafolla, a U.S. citizen who was questioned by ICE outside the Washington County Courthouse in 2017.
At a rally outside the courthouse in Hillsboro, the ACLU, faith leaders and activists called for an end to ICE detentions at courthouses.
One of the examples cited was the detention of Fabian Alberto Zamora-Rodriguez inside the Clatsop County Courthouse in July, where ICE agents used what appeared to be pepper spray against Zamora-Rodriguez’s mother, partner and immigrant rights advocates, who were trying to escort him away.
Zamora-Rodriguez had appeared in Circuit Court for a hearing on charges that he encouraged child sexual abuse.
“Every day, people are being racially profiled at our courthouses,” said Ron Werner, a pastor and an organizer with the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice. “Every day, we’re hearing reports of pepper spray in our courthouses. Every day, communities are living in fear because they’re afraid to do their business at courthouses, which are supposed to keep us safe.”
Hundreds of people formed a tight circle in front of the courthouse, where they called for Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters to take action and lawyers announced their legal claim against ICE.
About 300 clergy leaders with the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice signed a letter asking Walters to issue an emergency rule prohibiting ICE arrests at or near county courthouses.
The ACLU claims ICE agents unlawfully detained Andrade-Tafolla without a warrant, reasonable suspicion or probable cause, said Caitlin Mitchell, an attorney representing Andrade-Tafolla. The tort claim seeks $100,000 in damages.
“Being a U.S. citizen working for the government itself, I just feel betrayed,” said Andrade-Tafolla, a county road maintenance worker.
“Today I get to fight back through the legal system. These federal agents must be held accountable. Immigrants and people of color make this county great. Latinos make this country great. We are hard workers and folks that come here to provide for their families and to hope for a better future.”
Many judges — including Judge Paula Brownhill, the presiding judge of the Clatsop County Circuit Court — have said ICE enforcement actions at courthouses could deter criminal defendants, crime victims and witnesses from coming to court.
Two years ago, after the incident with Andrade-Tafolla outside the Washington County Courthouse, Bonamici was among the lawmakers behind the Protecting Sensitive Locations Act, which would make ICE’s policy the law and cover courthouses.
“These overly aggressive tactics spark fear and deter people from accessing justice, and I was disturbed to see yet another aggressive ICE action inside the Clatsop County Courthouse,” the Oregon Democrat said in an email.
“These types of incidents in and around courthouses are increasing in frequency and severity, sometimes getting physical and causing panic. This promotes fear and mistrust in law enforcement, which serves no one.”
Wyden and Merkley introduced the Protecting Sensitive Locations Act in the U.S. Senate in July, but the Oregon Democrats are unlikely to be successful while Republicans control the Senate.
Bonamici believes the bill can pass in the House, where Democrats are in the majority.
“We will continue to provide needed oversight of ICE and other agencies, which my Protecting Sensitive Locations Act would help strengthen,” the congresswoman said. “I’m also encouraged by efforts in Oregon to take action that complements my federal bill at the state level.”
Under ICE’s policy, enforcement actions should not occur at sensitive locations unless there are pressing circumstances, other law enforcement actions have led officers to the sensitive location, or prior approval is obtained from a supervisor.
ICE also has guidelines for detentions at courthouses, but has strongly defended the practice.
Tanya Roman, an ICE spokeswoman, said in a statement after Zamora-Rodriguez’s detention at the Clatsop County Courthouse that enforcement actions taken inside courthouses can reduce safety risks to the public.
“ICE does not make civil immigration arrests inside courthouses indiscriminately,” she said. “As with all other federal agency planned enforcement actions, ICE arrests at courthouses are the result of targeted enforcement actions against specific, targeted aliens.”
Zamora-Rodriguez’s mother and partner appeared with immigrant rights advocates at a town hall Wednesday night at the First Presbyterian Church in Astoria. Advocates did not provide much more information on Zamora-Rodriguez’s immigration status, but said he was being held at the federal detention center in Tacoma, Washington.
“Why are they coming into the courthouse and arresting people? Yes, Fabian has a criminal case, but (is) innocent until proven guilty,” said Kendra Williams-Reyes, an immigrant rights advocate who was among those pepper sprayed while trying to shield Zamora-Rodriguez.
Williams-Reyes is also waiting for her husband to be released from the federal detention center in Tacoma, after he and his sister, who are immigrants from Mexico, were picked up by ICE last year in Pacific County, Washington, on their way to work at Willapa Bay canneries.
“This is why we were standing and protecting Fabian, is because he has the right to a fair trial,” Williams-Reyes said. “Everybody does, just like us citizens.”