By David Brand
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested a man steps away from the Queens Criminal Courthouse in Kew Gardens on Wednesday, attorneys told the Eagle.
The arrest took place shortly before 1 p.m. with many attorneys and court staff looking on.
The Queens courthouse has been a common target for ICE agents over the past several years, including a surge in enforcement in the fall of 2018, said Queens Law Associates Supervising Immigration Attorney Josh Epstein.
“We saw a lot of ICE’s presence at Queens Criminal Court in the Fall and it seemed to drop off, but recently, in the last week, we have gotten a report of ICE outside the court or in the courthouse almost every other day,” Epstein said.
Epstein said ICE’s presence discourages people from coming to court and sews fear in Queens’ immigrant communities.
“Our clients are coming to the Queens Criminal Court to handle their criminal cases and abide by their court orders and ICE is interfering with that in an astounding way,” Epstein said. “Not only does that prevent folks from engaging in their criminal cases but it sets a great fear in the community.”
Epstein said immigrant defendants take pleas to avoid returning to court.
“They could get their cases resolved in a better way, but because of the fear of ICE in the criminal courthouse they don’t want to return so they will accept unfavorable pleas,” he said. “It starts all the way at arraignment.”
According to an interactive map created by the Immigrant Defense Project, more than three dozen ICE arrests were reported in and around the courthouse between 2015 and June 27, 2018. In November, a passerby filmed ICE agents tackling and arresting a man as he walked toward the steps of the courthouse.
ICE did not immediately respond to request for comment. A automatic emailed response generated indicated that public relations staff are furloughed during the government shutdown.
Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown has not publicly denounced ICE’s presence in and around the courthouse.
Each Queens District Attorney candidate vying to replace Brown has criticized ICE’s enforcement at the court. In December, the then-three candidates told the Eagle they supported an “immigration hardship” plea policy that would direct prosecutors to consider how various charges could impact a noncitizen defendant’s immigration status.
“The immigration hardship plea policy is the minimum that any DA candidate running in a city like New York, and Queens specifically, needs to have,” said Murad Awawdeh, political director for the New York State Immigrant Action Fund. “It’s unconscionable for any candidate not to have an immigration hardship plea policy.”