New York State Legislature Passes the Protect Our Courts Act

Assemblywoman Solages & Sen. Hoylman Pass Momentous Legislation: ICE Cannot Use Courts to Trap Immigrant New Yorkers

ALBANY, N.Y. - The Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) applauded the passage of the Protect Our Courts Act (S425/A2176), which sends a clear message to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a federal agency that continues to terrorize communities, that it is the true threat to our towns and cities. The Protect Our Courts Act will bar Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from making civil arrests of people attending New York state courthouses unless they have a judicial warrant.

As part of its efforts to undermine protections for immigrants in the state, ICE has increasingly used courthouses to surveil, arrest and terrorize immigrants. Beginning in 2017, IDP began tracking ICE raids at NY courthouses and documented an alarming 1700% increase in ICE courthouse arrests and attempted arrests across New York State under the Trump administration.

IDP and allies in the ICE Out of Courts Coalition have campaigned steadily over three years to fight back against ICE using courthouses to trap immigrant New Yorkers. Today’s legislative win builds on last year’s victory when the New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA) announced new court rules prohibiting ICE from arresting individuals in state courthouses without a judicial warrant or judicial order.

The campaign notched another win last month when New York State Attorney General Letitia James won a lawsuit against the Trump Administration over its illegal policy of making ICE arrests at state courthouses. Furthermore, the passage of this bill ensures that New Yorkers are permanently protected from this harmful ICE practice by codifying the legal privilege from civil arrest at the heart of last month’s federal court order. The bill also creates avenues for anyone arrested by ICE at a courthouse to hold the agency accountable.

“Over the past few years, ICE has repeatedly sent a clear message that it would stop at nothing to achieve its cruel, dehumanizing and destructive criminalizing and deportation agenda. In response to our coalition’s work documenting and illustrating the devastating impacts of ICE’s activities, New York’s courts and legislature have taken decisive action to protect our rights,” said Mizue Aizeki, Deputy Director of the Immigrant Defense Project. “By passing the Protect Our Courts Act, New York’s message to ICE is loud and clear—ICE is the threat and its harmful practices must stop,”

As courts begin to reopen while communities of color are still fighting the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Protect Our Courts Act is vital to the protection of the immigrant communities hit hard by the virus. ICE policing at courts would only add another layer of distress to undocumented immigrants who seek access to the courts for housing rights, to defend themselves, and to seek protection.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, ICE targeting of NYC included a 400% increase in raids reports to IDP in the first 11 weeks of 2020 compared to the last 11 weeks of 2019. IDP also released a report earlier this year detailing how ICE expanded its courthouse operations under the Trump administration. ICE tactics in 2020 were among the most aggressive and militarized IDP has seen in recent years, and as the state begins to reopen following the height of the pandemic, ICE raids are picking back up. The federal government has also deployed ICE officers to cities and towns in militarized and violent operations against protestors in recent weeks.

With the bill passed by both the Senate and Assembly, the Protect Our Courts Act now awaits Governor Cuomo’s signature.

“The American judicial system was founded on the ideals of equity and equal accessibility to justice for all. The Protect Our Courts legislation is simply reaffirming our commitment to those very principles,” said Assemblymember Michaelle Solages, Chair-elect of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus. “We have seen Federal ICE agents make a concerted effort to use courthouses as a means of entrapment, which in turn has created a hostile environment for individuals seeking recourse from New York courts. I am grateful for the diligent efforts of the Immigrant Defense Project, New York Immigration Coalition, 32BJ, and other advocates in prioritizing these critical protections for all New Yorkers.”

Senator Brad Hoylman said, "Donald Trump’s heartless immigration policy is a cruel perversion of justice. We cannot allow our courthouses to become a hunting ground for federal agents attempting to round up immigrant New Yorkers. Already, ICE arrests in or around courthouses in New York have spiked by 1,700% since Donald Trump took office. The Protect Our Courts Act, which I’m proud to sponsor with Assemblymember Solages, will get ICE out of our courthouses and make our justice system more just. It will allow all New Yorkers to attend judicial proceedings, whether as a litigant, witness or family member. I’m grateful to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for working with us to pass this crucial legislation, and thankful to the advocates and immigrant New Yorkers , including the Immigrant Defense Project, who made a clear, compelling moral case for why New York must pass this bill."

Steve Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said, "With ICE's unfettered authority growing amidst this pandemic, it is clear that nothing except the force of law will stop this administration from terrorizing our immigrant communities. We thank Assemblymember Solages and Senator Hoylman for championing this vital piece of legislation ensuring that all New Yorkers can exercise their right to due process freely, safely and without fear. The legislation will ensure that the courts cannot continue to be used as another front in this administration's attacks on immigrant New Yorkers.“

“The passage of the Protect Our Courts Act will protect immigrant New Yorkers, who will be able to access our courts safely without fear of being detained and separated from their loved ones,” said Theo Oshiro, Deputy Director of Make the Road New York. “ICE's presence in our courthouses wreaked havoc on our judicial system and blocked immigrants from equal access to due process. Today’s victory is crucial to continue to protect and defend immigrants against the Trump administration's out-of-control deportation machine. We thank lead sponsors Senator Hoylman and Assemblymember Solages for their leadership in passing this bill in both houses, and we urge the Governor to sign it immediately.”

Nyasa Hickey, Director of Immigration Initiatives, Brooklyn Defender Services, said, "Brooklyn Defender Services thanks the New York State legislature for passing the Protect Our Courts Act, which forbids ICE from making arrests of immigrants in or near the courts. All New Yorkers, whether a defendant, witness, or party to a case, must have equal access to the courts, regardless of their immigration status. This bill makes clear that ICE’s practice of stalking immigrants on their way to or from the courts is illegal and interferes with due process.”

Zachary Ahmad, Policy Counsel, New York Civil Liberties Union, said, “ICE’s malicious practice of arresting people at courthouses strikes at the heart of the due process rights our court system is built to protect. Allowing this practice to continue would have a chilling effect that would prohibit people from seeking justice in the courts for reasonable fear of profiling and arrest. Today the New York State legislature made sure that our courthouses aren't a target for the federal government’s deportation forces.”