New OCA directive prevents ICE from making courthouse arrests without judicial warrant

ICE officers arrest an immigrant outside the Queens Criminal Courthouse. Photo obtained by the  Eagle

ICE officers arrest an immigrant outside the Queens Criminal Courthouse. Photo obtained by the Eagle

By David Brand

The New York State Office of Court Administration issued a new directive Wednesday evening that prevents Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from making arrests inside courthouses without a judicial warrant or judicial order.

Statewide courthouse ICE arrests have surged by 1700 percent since 2016, according to a report by the Immigrant Defense Project. Last year, Queens recorded the second highest number in the state, IDP reported.

The new OCA rule mandates that ICE have a judicial warrant reviewed by a Unified Court System judge or court attorney before making arrest inside a courthouse.

“Arrests by agents of U.S. lmmigration and Customs Enforcement may be executed inside a New York State courthouse only pursuant to a judicial warrant or judicial order authorizing the arrest,” the text of the directive states. “A ‘judicial warrant’ or ‘judicial order’ is a warrant or order issued by a federal judge or federal magistrate judge. A UCS judge or court attorney shall review the warrant or order to confirm compliance with this requirement prior to any such arrest.”

Immigrants’ rights activists hailed the measure, which comes after years of advocacy.

“This rule change is a big win for thousands of immigrants and their families across New York State who will no longer be sitting ducks in the courtroom,” said Terry Lawson, director of the Family and Immigration Unit at Bronx Legal Services. “We can now advise the women, men, and children we represent that ICE cannot arrest them in New York State courts without a warrant with their name on it, signed by a judge.”

Another report published last week by the IDP found that immigrants are afraid to visit court or seek justice services because of the presence of ICE agents. The report surveyed judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and immigrants’ rights advocates throughout New York State.

Legal Aid Society Attorney-in-Charge Janet Sabel said the new rule will “truly help protect immigrant New Yorkers from the pervasive and rampant immigration enforcement at courthouses that we have seen on a regular basis since the start of the Trump Administration.”

“In order for our judicial system to function properly, all immigrants — including our clients who have been accused of a crime, parents appearing in family court, and survivors of abuse, among others — must have unimpeded access to courts,” Sabel said.

Read the full directive below:

This story will be updated to reflect new information about the directive.