A new rule in Oregon prohibits U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from detaining people at state courthouses without a judicial arrest warrant.
The rule also protects people going to or from court proceedings from being stopped in nearby entryways, sidewalks and parking lots.
Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters enacted the rule Thursday following concerns about ICE agents detaining people at courthouses through administrative warrants. Oregon is the third state, after New Jersey and New York, to prohibit ICE detentions in and around courthouses without a judicial warrant.
“Arrests in courthouses have interfered with judicial proceedings and removed criminal defendants before they have been sentenced or completed their sentences,” Walters said in a statement. “We are adopting this rule to maintain the integrity of our courts and provide access to justice — not to advance or oppose any political or policy agenda.”
After Ruben Vera Perez was detained by ICE agents outside the Clatsop County Courthouse last December, Judge Paula Brownhill, the presiding judge of the Circuit Court, said ICE enforcement actions at courthouses could deter criminal defendants, crime victims and witnesses from coming to court.
Fabian Alberto Zamora-Rodriguez was detained inside the Clatsop County Courthouse in July following a hearing on felony charges. ICE agents used what appeared to be pepper spray against Zamora-Rodriguez’s mother, partner and immigrant rights advocates while they tried to escort him away.
The detention was one of several in Oregon cited by civil liberties advocates at a rally in August in Washington County calling for the end of ICE enforcement at courthouses.
“I think it recognizes that there are times when it’s appropriate to take someone into custody in the courthouse and there are times when it is not appropriate,” said Judge Dawn McIntosh, who became presiding judge of the Clatsop County Circuit Court after Brownhill’s retirement. “I think the chief justice struck a good balance on this one in terms of keeping our courthouses safe … and to use them and not interfering with the federal laws that are out there.”
Following Zamora-Rodriguez’s detention in July, Sheriff Tom Bergin called for more support of ICE’s efforts to detain people who are in the country illegally.
“If that’s what the judge wants and that’s what the judge orders than that’s what we’ll do. We always stand by the law,” Bergin said of the rule change. “We work within the confines of the legal system and that’s how we’re going to continue to do it.”
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 an ICE policy that limits arrests at “sensitive locations” like schools and hospitals into federal law. They also want to expand it to include courthouses.
About 300 clergy leaders with the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice signed a letter in August asking Walters to issue an emergency rule prohibiting ICE arrests at or near courthouses.
According to the Oregon Judicial Department, Walters and the chief justice of the Washington Supreme Court met with ICE representatives and the U.S. attorneys for Oregon and Washington state in October to discuss the reasons for immigration detentions in courthouses and potential court rules.
ICE declined to add courthouses to their list of sensitive locations.
In a statement, Tanya Roman, an ICE spokeswoman, said, “ICE ERO officers have been provided broad at-large arrest authority by Congress and may lawfully arrest removable aliens in courthouses, which is often necessitated by local policies that prevent law enforcement from cooperating with ICE efforts to arrange for safe and orderly transfer of custody in the setting of a state or county prison or jail and put political rhetoric before public safety.”
ICE has said that enforcement actions inside courthouses can reduce safety risks to the public.
“It is ironic that elected officials want to see policies in place to keep ICE out of courthouses, while caring little for laws enacted by Congress to keep criminal aliens out of our country,” Roman said. “Despite any attempts to prevent ICE officers from doing their jobs, ICE will continue to carry out its mission to uphold public safety and enforce immigration law, and consider carefully whether to refer those who obstruct our lawful enforcement efforts for criminal prosecution.”
‘Simply a figment’
Roman said in an email that “Congress has established no process, requirement, or expectation directing ICE to seek a judicial warrant from already overburdened federal courts before taking custody of an alien on civil immigration violations.
“This idea is simply a figment created by those who wish to undermine immigration enforcement and excuse the ill-conceived practices of sanctuary jurisdictions that put politics before public safety.”
Katherine McDowell, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, said in a statement that “legal observers have repeatedly witnessed ICE officers profile, stalk and violently arrest community members in Oregon courthouses.
“The courthouse rule stops these frightening practices and ensures that everyone can seek justice in our courts.”