Queens DA won’t join lawsuit to stop ICE arrests, Katz ‘100% supportive’ (Updated)

Attorney General Letitia James and District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announce a lawsuit against ICE over civil immigration arrests in and around courthouses.  Eagle  photo by Noah Goldberg

Attorney General Letitia James and District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announce a lawsuit against ICE over civil immigration arrests in and around courthouses. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg

By David Brand

UPDATE — SEPT. 27, 2019 at 2:42 p.m.: The campaign of Melinda Katz provided a new statement indicating that Katz is “100% supportive of the lawsuit against ICE."

The Queens District Attorney’s Office will not join a lawsuit filed by the state attorney general and Brooklyn DA against Immigration and Customs Enforcement aimed at stopping agents from making arrests in and around state courthouses. 

Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez has joined Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit, arguing that ICE activity at courthouses discourages victims, witnesses, defendants and respondents from attending court. James and Gonzalez, along with defense attorneys and immigrants’ rights organizations in a separate lawsuit, also say the federal law enforcement agency is encroaching on state sovereignty.

But Acting Queens DA John Ryan said he does not think the state has “the authority to prevent federal agents from carrying out their duties.”

“The issue is not whether the law has a worthwhile purpose,” Ryan said. “The issue is does New York State have the authority to prevent federal agents from carrying out their duties. I remain unconvinced that NY has the power to do that.”

The Queens DA’s Office supplied the same statement when asked why the office did not support the Protect Our Courts Act, a bill designed to prevent ICE from making courthouse arrests, which failed to pass the state legislature last session. That bill was supported by Gonzalez as well as Manhattan DA Cy Vance and Bronx DA Darcel Clark.

Vance and Clark have not joined James and Gonzalez in the lawsuit against ICE, however. Nor has Staten Island DA Michael McMahon.

Queens had the second highest number of ICE arrests in and around courthouses of any county in the state last year, according to a report by the Immigrant Defense Project. Only Kings County recorded more, IDP found. 

ICE has made six arrests inside courthouses in New York City so far this year, according to the Office of Court Administration. OCA issued a directive in April mandating that ICE agents present a signed judicial warrant when making a courthouse arrest. 

OCA does not record ICE arrests outside courthouses, however. The Eagle has learned of ICE arrests outside Queens Criminal Court as well as Queens Family Court in 2019 so far.

The next Queens DA may take a different approach to addressing ICE activity in and around courthouses, but it remains unclear how they will proceed if elected.

Democratic nominee Melinda Katz has advocated for ICE to stay out of courts and would continue to do so as DA, said a campaign spokesperson.

“She applauds the Attorney General's filing and is 100% supportive of the lawsuit against ICE,” the campaign spokesperson said.

As borough president, Katz has been a vocal advocate for the rights of immigrants and opposed ICE activity in Queens. She did not commit to joining James’ lawsuit.

Last year, she said she would implement an immigration hardship plea policy to “take into account the consequences” of specific convictions on a defendant’s immigration status.

In many cases, when deportation is the end result of a conviction or plea bargain, the punishment simply does not fit the crime,” Katz told the Eagle in December 2018. “Collateral consequences of a criminal conviction can be a devastating.”

“I will seek immigrant-neutral pleas when compatible with public safety to prevent those collateral consequences and review cases that were adjudicated before I took office and are now causing immigrant consequences,” she added. “It is imperative that our DA delivers fair justice for all."

Defense attorney Joe Murray, the Republican nominee, told the Eagle he would not join the lawsuit.