By Jonathan Sperling
With just two days to go until the end of the legislative session, district attorneys across New York state are urging the legislature to pass the Protect Our Courts Act, explaining that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents continue to interfere with court proceedings.
New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., Bronx County District Attorney Darcel Clark and three others DAs from across the state signed onto the letter, which argues that ICE’s presence in the courts interferes with their ability to investigate and prosecute crimes. Both documented and undocumented crime victims who are immigrants are often scared to testify against their assailants, leading DA offices to sometimes reduce and even dismiss charges, the letter states.
“ICE arrests at courthouses interfere with court proceedings, are a potential threat to public safety and instill fear in immigrant communities,” the letter states. “As District Attorneys, we are charged with administering justice in the state, and this issue significantly undermines that purpose. We request that the New York State legislature immediately act to address this crucial issue.”
Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, Albany County District Attorney David Soares and Westchester County District Attorney Anthony Scarpino, Jr. were the other signatories.
ICE arrests inside and around New York courthouses increased by 1700 percent between 2016 and 2018, according to a report by the Immigrant Defense Project. Queens and Brooklyn accounted for the highest number of courthouse ICE arrests in the state, the report revealed.
At least 33 people were arrested in and around Queens County courthouses last year, according to a January report by the IDP. Only Brooklyn accounted for more courthouse ICE arrests, with 35, the report stated. Statewide courthouse ICE arrests increased by 1700 percent between 2016 and 2018, IDP reported.
Acting Queens District Attorney John Ryan and Staten Island DA Michael McMahon have not publicly supported the bill.