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Connecticut AG Joins Fight Against ICE Courthouse Arrests

Critics say ICE courthouse arrests make immigrants who either are witnesses or victims of crime reluctant to appear in court. (K. Gardner, U.S. ICE)
Critics say ICE courthouse arrests make immigrants who either are witnesses or victims of crime reluctant to appear in court. (K. Gardner, U.S. ICE)
January 24, 2020

HARTFORD, Conn. - Immigrants' rights advocates are praising Connecticut Attorney General William Tong's efforts to stop courthouse immigration arrests in the state.

This week, Tong joined a group of 14 state attorneys general filing amicus briefs supporting a Washington state lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests in and around state courthouses.

An estimated 120,000 undocumented immigrants live in the Nutmeg State. According to Megan Fountain - a volunteer with Unidad Latina en Accion - many who are witnesses to, or victims of, crimes, or have simple civil matters have good reason to fear that going to court may put them in jeopardy of arrest by plainclothes ICE agents.

"ICE agents have been stalking the courthouses," says Fountain. "They have racially profiled people, and this is absolutely interrupting the judicial process in Connecticut."

ICE has defended the courthouse arrests, saying federal immigration law gives them exclusive authority to make those arrests, regardless of location.

But Fountain says ICE arrests in courthouses often subject immigrants to prolonged and unnecessary detention. She points to the case of Mario Aguilar, a high school student who was arrested when he went to court to answer a misdemeanor charge in a traffic accident.

"After 100 days in immigration detention, an immigration judge ruled that he was eligible for asylum and they released him," says Fountain.

She adds that lawful residents and even U.S. citizens have been threatened with arrest because ICE agents thought they looked like undocumented immigrants.

Lawsuits challenging courthouse immigration arrests also have been filed in Massachusetts and New York. Fountain says immigrants can turn to organizations that help by accompanying them when they need to go to court.

"We help them navigate the court system," says Fountain. "We want people to have access to the public defenders. We want people to use the court as a resource."

Attorney General Tong says the courthouse arrests frighten people even if they aren't immigrants and create chaos in courthouses. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court in Western Washington.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - CT