NYLAG-Protest-ICE-NYC-Courtrooms-StaffIn June NYLAG staff and volunteers gathered on the steps of City Hall to protest the recent spike in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests of immigrants in New York courts.

The event, a press conference organized by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Legal Aid Society, drew support from more than 100 organizations, including immigration advocates, legal services organizations, and domestic violence and victims services groups.

NYLAG also signed on to an open letter to New York State Chief Judge, Janet DiFiore, urging immediate action to protect the rights of immigrant New Yorkers and the integrity of the court system.

Outrage against ICE’s presence in New York courthouses has been growing in recent months. According to a Legal Aid official, there have been 38 arrests and attempts to arrest throughout the state, 19 of those arrests occurring within New York City.

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The press conference and letter to Chief Judge DiFiore were in direct response to an incident on June 16, when federal immigration agents entered a Human Trafficking Intervention Courtroom in Queens during the trial of a young Chinese woman. While she was not taken into custody, the presence of ICE agents in a human trafficking courtroom raised alarm.

“When individuals with trafficking experiences are arrested for prostitution or related offenses, they are required to show up for their criminal court appearances like any other defendant,” said Jillian M. Hernandez, Staff Attorney with the Immigrant Protection Unit (IPU). “The criminalization of these victims is bad enough without them having to then choose between risking deportation or facing a prolonged criminal case that could itself lead to immigration consequences.”

According an Immigrant Defense Project study, 29% of attorneys surveyed reported having immigrant clients who failed to appear in court due to fear of ICE. This can inhibit the process of justice for everyone in the community.

Being undocumented doesn’t strip you of the right to justice. But the justice system doesn’t work if victims, witnesses, and defendants stop showing up in court because they are afraid of being deported,” said Elizabeth Gibson, Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow and Staff Attorney with IPU. “If you are a U.S. citizen, this can have an impact on you if a key witness in your case or the person you’re suing is an immigrant.”

Attorneys who work with survivors of violence have also reported that 67% of their clients who had faced violence decided not to file a report due to fear.

“If an immigrant woman is raped but too afraid to go to court, the rapist could go free and abuse someone else,” Gibson said. “The really devastating cases that we are seeing far too frequently are women who have survived horrific domestic violence and need orders of protection against their abusers. Even as they sit trembling and crying in fear, they are telling us that they don’t want to file for an order because they are too afraid of going to court.”