ACLU Calls on ICE to Halt Arrests at Kern County Courthouse
Bakersfield – Today, attorneys for the ACLU of California and the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project sent a letter demanding Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stop its deeply troubling practice of arresting people at Kern County Courthouses. Over the past year, ICE agents have taken advantage of unsuspecting individuals who were attempting to pay fines, appear for court appearances, get married or obtain restraining orders.
The letter details egregious instances of ICE conducting indiscriminate sweeps through Kern County Courthouses. In one of several examples, Mr. Gurvinder Singh was about to get married to Ms. Kuldeet Kaur on September 12, 2012 when ICE agents disrupted their ceremony and detained and arrested Mr. Singh. In another case, ICE agents arrested long-time resident Hector Esquivel Chavez, who was attempting to pay a fine for driving without a license, in front of his partner and two year-old daughter. The arrests have deterred residents from complying with the law and accessing essential court services.
“ICE’s tactics are reprehensible,” said Michael Kaufman, staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. “ICE is punishing people for attempting to comply with the law or access important court services, like marriage licenses and restraining orders. By scaring people away from courthouses, ICE is undermining the public health and safety of the entire Kern County community.”
“Just as schools and places of worship are considered sensitive locations that are off-limits to immigration enforcement, courthouses should be safe and accessible for all Californians,” said Julia Harumi Mass, staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California.
“When ICE officers roam the courthouse hallways, many individuals are placed in the untenable position of choosing between protecting themselves or paying a traffic ticket,” said Gabriela Rivera, staff attorney at the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “This is exactly the kind of perverse enforcement approach that causes immigrant communities to fear cooperation with law enforcement officials. It is misguided to discourage this population from meeting its civic responsibilities.”
The letter urges ICE to investigate the conduct of its Bakersfield office and take immediate steps to put an end to its harmful and illegal practices in Kern County. The letter further requests that ICE modify its nationwide policies and trainings clarifying that courthouses are sensitive locations where ICE agents are prohibited from conducting enforcement actions absent extraordinary circumstances. The letter details reports that ICE agents have conducted courthouse arrests in other locations, including Santa Clara, California demonstrating the need for reforms nationwide.
“When ICE agents arrest people at the courthouse, they are improperly interfering with the states’ judicial systems and undermining people’s basic right of access to the courts,” said Kate Desormeau, staff attorney at the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. ”ICE’s existing policy already recognizes that there are certain locations that are generally not appropriate for immigration enforcement operations. It should clarify that courthouses are on that list too.”