Immigration arrest

ICE agents detain a person during a raid in Richmond, Va.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents pepper-spraying people in a Clatsop County Courthouse corridor while sheriff’s deputies look on? Is this really a situation anyone should find acceptable?

The latest example of using the courthouse as a hunting ground happened Thursday. A defendant accused of disgusting behavior — but who remains innocent in the eyes of the law and was not in state custody — attended court for a routine hearing in preparation for an eventual trial. In light of previous ICE arrests there, family and supporters escorted the defendant as he departed. Federal agents moved in and extracted the man by deploying a chemical spray and strong-arm tactics.

A video appears to verify details of the encounter between ICE and the man’s nonviolent escort. One person “was sprayed 3 times in the eyes and in the mouth as she informed the ICE agents they needed a signed judicial warrant to take our client then was sprayed [less] than 3 inches away in the mouth and eyes along with our supporters,” according to a Thursday social media posting by Stephanie Serrano of Pacific County Immigrant Support.

Sheriff Tom Bergin was provided advance notice of the ICE interdiction on county property. In his view, those accompanying the defendant are guilty of interfering with a police officer. However, his belief apparently was not strong enough to lead to arresting anyone and thus eventually testing this legal theory with the prosecutor’s office or local judges. District Attorney Ron Brown said ICE’s local action was legal, though “not something we like to see at all.”

The optics of all this are appalling. In normal times, ICE agents involved in a brouhaha in the legally sacrosanct precincts of a county courthouse at least might face professional discipline. Nowadays, ICE rarely even pretends to be accountable to citizen oversight, and the sheriff is certain to be applauded within the echo chamber of those who believe all undocumented immigrants deserve immediate deportation.

There are excellent reasons why federal agents shouldn’t be allowed to do what they did — reasons that should be appreciated by all Americans.

Judge Paula Brownhill, the presiding judge of the Clatsop County Circuit Court, has said the practice of detaining people near the courthouse can deter court appearances and has a serious impact on the administration of justice.

“Not only criminal defendants, but civil litigants, crime victims, and witnesses may be reluctant to come to court for fear of encountering ICE,” Brownhill said after an earlier ICE intervention. “If the district attorney is unable to prove a criminal case because an essential witness fails to appear, or a domestic violence victim is unable to obtain a protective order because she is afraid to come to the courthouse, our community is less safe for everyone.”

The U.S. probably has at least 10 million residents who lack official right to be here. The vast majority of these abide by our laws in other respects and pay taxes in support of government services like law enforcement. By scaring them away from cooperation with our judicial system, ICE is fostering an underclass of millions who can be victimized by criminals without recourse, and who have little incentive to take the risk of helping root out those criminals. This degrades all our neighborhoods — not just those heavily populated by immigrants.

In this case, ICE made an example of a defendant who hardly anyone would defend from imprisonment and deportation if he is convicted. But ICE’s ham-handed arrest short-circuits the defendant’s ability to clear his name, and the state’s ability to prosecute him.

It is hard to see this latest ICE arrest as anything other than a deliberate provocation and thumbing of the nose to Brownhill and other judges who have spoken out. This is a federal agency acting with a steadfast belief in its own impunity. Such an attitude ought to deeply disturb every citizen who believes in our own fundamental civil liberties, states’ rights and the rule of law.

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(3) comments

william furnish

Well now, with an authoritative, accurate and free-from- bias account of events by Stephanie Serrano of Pacific County Immigration Rights on unnamed social media, this matter ought to be fully resolved....except for one minor point: the individual detained is not an "immigrant".

Sandy Nielson

My question: did ICE have a judicially signed warrant for the man arrested at the courthouse? If not, this was an illegal seizure. The immigrant has been charged with a serious crime and, if guilty, he should be deported. Now that ICE has him will he ever have his day in court? Without a trial we don't know whether to believe his story or the sheriff's. I would like to think this is still a country founded on the principal of justice for all but this incident shows how close we have come to a police state.

Stephen Malkowski

Our immigration policy should be compassionate but pragmatic and realistic. Our country’s laws and rules should be adhered to and enforced. Illegal immigrants who willfully violate our laws and exploit loop holes should not expect that the behavior will be rewarded by allowing them to cut in front of millions of law abiding legal immigrants who patiently wait for more than a decade to get their cases adjudicated. What about family separations for citizens. If a dad or a mom commit a crime they are put in prison and their families are forcefully separated. Why the special treatment and anguish for those who cross the border illegally or willfully overstay their visa. If laws are not enforced, USA will rapidly become similar to the very same countries from which the migrants are fleeing from. Sadly, Democratic's don’t seem to want to enforce laws in this country anymore. They want open borders and to allow illegal aliens, who have received final deportation orders from the courts, to be allowed to stay anyway. They want to give them free health care and education through college and they want to let them vote. But where citizens are concerned, they believe we should just shut up and let them impose harmful cap and invest legislation. Who votes for people who think like this?

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