Pass the #ProtectOurCourts Act Now!

Honorable Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Majority Leader of the New York State Senate; Honorable Carl Heastie, Speaker of the New York State Assembly

The Protect Our Courts Act (S425/A2176) is vital to the protection of the immigrant community during and emerging from this pandemic. Immigrant communities have been devastated by COVID-19, and ICE will continue to intimidate people out of accessing critical services at courthouses unless New York acts now.

Immigrant neighborhoods are at the epicenter of the outbreak and have experienced massive loss of life. Many are essential workers facing heightened risks to pull our state through this crisis. While immigrants have been excluded from economic relief, they are additionally marginalized from accessing the variety of rights and remedies that are available through the court system, where ICE targets people for arrest.

As COVID-19 was ravaging communities across the state, ICE arrested an individual outside a Long Island courthouse on March 16th, the day Suffolk County schools were closed. With USCIS’s announcement that it will reopen offices on June 4th and the gradual re-opening of New York Courts, we can assume that ICE will ramp up its enforcement activities. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE had clearly targeted NYC—ICE raids in NYC increased 400% in the first 11 weeks of 2020 compared to the last 11 weeks of 2019.  

Advocates report that survivors of domestic violence are scared that, if they or their family members are arrested or detained by ICE, it will equal a death sentence. With COVID-19 spreading rapidly throughout jails and detention centers, the message has been received loud and clear by immigrant communities that ICE has little, if any, regard for human life. When faced with the choice of risking detention, deportation, and a very high risk of contracting COVID-19 in ICE custody, survivors will stay home and stay away from courts. With Governor Cuomo reporting a dramatic increase of domestic violence incidents, legislators must seize this opportunity to signal to survivors that the courts are a safe place to go.

As undocumented immigrants are already fearful of seeking medical attention during this time, POCA needs to be in place in order to ease the anxiety and stress inflicted onto their communities. This would be especially relevant in the event there is another large outbreak of the virus in the fall, as it is anticipated.

ICE policing at NYS courts only adds another layer of distress to undocumented immigrants who seek access to an institution in which every resident has a right to use. New York State has the opportunity to make immigrant communities feel more safe during this pandemic, so they can access state services.  

Sponsored by

To: Honorable Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Majority Leader of the New York State Senate; Honorable Carl Heastie, Speaker of the New York State Assembly
From: [Your Name]

Dear Majority Leader and Speaker of the Assembly,

We write today to urge the Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie to bring the Protect Our Courts Act (S425A/A2176), a bill that will ensure equal access to state court proceedings regardless of immigration status, to the floor for a vote. New York has seen an unprecedented escalation in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) using State courts to effectuate civil immigration arrests—an increase of 1700% over the past three years. Squads of ICE officers prey on community members, undermining the effective functioning and constitutional underpinnings of the courts and threatening public health and safety of all New Yorkers.

Since January 2017, New York has seen federal immigration officers stalk immigrants in and around its courthouses, where they arrest them and place them in civil immigration detention and deportation proceedings or immediately deport them. These arrests mark the resurgence of a long-defunct practice of civil arrests in courthouses—a practice legislatures and courts have regulated for more than a century. The spate of civil arrests that started immediately after President Trump’s inauguration has escalated dramatically over the past three years.

ICE courthouse arrests affect everyone. With arrests up 1700%, those disappeared from court have been survivors of violence, youth, people who are mentally ill or homeless, guardians to U.S. citizen children, people who are LGBT, victims of human trafficking, and asylum seekers. In and around courthouses, ICE agents have physically separated attorneys from clients, thrown individuals to the ground, and refused to display warrants or share any information.

The Protect Our Courts Act will restore courthouse access across New York State, by making it unlawful for ICE to make a civil arrest while someone is going to, attending or leaving court without a judicial warrant or court order and codifying the Unified Court System directive issued by the Office of Court Administration on April 17, 2019.

The undersigned strongly support the enactment of the Protect Our Courts Act and urge you to act on this.