After reports of an increase in immigration agents around courthouses, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst asked the federal government on Wednesday to enforce immigration laws elsewhere.
OLYMPIA — After reports of an increase in immigration agents around courthouses, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst asked the federal government on Wednesday to enforce immigration laws elsewhere.
Fairhurst wrote to John Kelly, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, expressing concern that immigration actions at courthouses could keep people away from the justice system.
Lawyers have reported seeing agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is overseen by Homeland Security, at courthouses in Clallam, Clark, Cowlitz, King, Mason and Skagit counties, according to a news release accompanying Fairhurst’s letter.
“These developments are deeply troubling because they impede the fundamental mission of our courts, which is to ensure due process and access to justice for everyone, regardless of their immigration status,” Fairhurst wrote in the letter.
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In an interview, the chief justice said attorneys have reported that ICE agents have been at courthouses, asking people for their names.
In one case, an arrest made by an ICE agent at one courthouse has scared the immigrant community from wanting to go to that courthouse, said Ann Benson, senior directing attorney for the Washington Defender Association.
In an email, Gillian Christensen, acting press secretary for Homeland Security, said her agency would respond to Fairhurst directly once the chief justice’s letter is received.
When ICE agents do arrest people at courthouses, it’s generally after officers have run out of other options, Christensen wrote.
Because some law-enforcement agencies don’t respond to ICE detainers, federal agents must go out and locate suspects, she added. Detainers are informal requests by the federal government seeking local law enforcement to hold in jail someone suspected of an immigration violation.
Detainers recently became national news after Homeland Security began publishing a list to “shame” agencies that supposedly weren’t cooperating — which included King and Snohomish counties.
Because some immigration suspects don’t have fixed addresses and courthouses often screen people for security risks, it can be safer and easier to apprehend people there, Christensen wrote.
In her letter, Fairhurst called on Homeland Security to designate courthouses as a “sensitive location.”
Homeland Security designates a handful of sites — schools, hospitals and places of worship — as sensitive locations where agents are generally not allowed to conduct enforcement operations. ICE policy does not list courthouses as a sensitive location, according to Christensen.
Such a designation would “assure our residents that they can and should appear for court hearings without fear of apprehension for civil immigration violations,” Fairhurst wrote.
To Benson, enforcement actions at courthouses are not just an issue of equal access to justice, but also a potential matter of racial discrimination.
ICE agents are “certainly not targeting Caucasian Canadians,” she said.