“From 2017 to 2018, ICE operations in and around the courts continued to increase, keeping arrests at an unprecedented level. These operations increased by 17% compared to 2017 and by 1700% compared to 2016.”

Elana Michelson, a member of UIDN’s Community Education and Advocacy team, used these stunning numbers to open a January forum on ICE in the courts. The number comes from The Courthouse Trap: How ICE Operations Impacted New York’s Courts in 2018 a report by the Immigrant Defense Project.

An audience of 50 people heard from four panelists (see box below) about the harm done to our communities by ICE’s practices, and how to take action in support of the Protect Our Courts Act currently in the NYS legislature.

Elana Michelson opened the forum.

If enacted, this bill would protect a person from civil arrest not only inside a courthouse, but while they are going to the courthouse or leaving it — an essential protection since ICE arrests are often made right outside the courthouse door, or even inside the court.

ICE’s courthouse arrests undermine public safety for all New Yorkers. Because they know they are at risk of being detained, victims of crimes — including domestic violence — and witnesses are often afraid to come forward. Housing rights advocates speak of clients who are too scared to file a complaint because of ICE’s presence in and around court.

In such cases, justice cannot be done. And our communities suffer.

According to, even “non-targeted individuals” are not immune to arrest in or near a courthouse, where they might have gone to accompany a family member: “The guidance stipulates that ICE will generally not go after non-targeted individuals encountered at the courthouse—such as family members, friends, or someone serving as a witness. Yet these ‘collateral arrests’ are not prohibited.”

Panelists, left to right

Antonio Flores Lobos, journalist. Antonio’s show, Mochilero (Backpacker) airs M-F, 11 am to noon, or listen anytime at Radio Kingston.

Shannon Wong, director, Lower Hudson Valley Chapter, NY Civil Liberties Union

Dave Clegg, Ulster County District Attorney

Kevin Cahill, NYS Assembly Member, District 103, and a cosponsor of the Protect Our Courts Act

Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa had been scheduled to participate, but was needed at a concurrent forum on opiates. He sent greetings and support.


This story was reported by Jo Salas and Debi Duke. Parts of the article are paraphrased from the Immigrant Defense Project report referenced above. Photos are by Gloria Waslyn.

Please also see ACLU’s discussion of this issue, Freezing Out Justice: How immigration arrests at courthouses are undermining the justice system (10 pp).

Courts should be considered sensitive locations

The Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) has been urged multiple times to add courthouses to an existing list of “sensitive” locations (like schools, places of worship, and hospitals, where enforcement actions are generally avoided). But the Trump administration has so far refused. At least in New York State, we have a pathway to remedy this violation of rights.

The Protect Our Courts Act ensures access to the courts for all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status. It protects the fundamental constitutional right for all to have their day in court. It extends protection to any person who is a party or potential witness in a civil or criminal court proceeding, including family and household members. And it empowers the New York Attorney General to pursue legal action on behalf of individuals arrested in violation of this law.

Please contact these key decision makers identified by the NYCLU’s Shannon Wong. Urge them to support the Protect Our Courts Act, Senate Bill S425A/Assembly Bill A11013A