Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have appeared in the arraignment department and misdemeanor courtrooms at the New York County Criminal Courthouse in Lower Manhattan at least twice in the past few days, and have taken at least one individual into custody, one of the city’s leading public defenders claimed this morning—possibly reflecting President Donald Trump‘s new and broadened parameters for arresting and expelling undocumented persons.
Stan German, executive director of New York County Defender Services, said his attorneys reported ICE personnel sitting in on arraignment proceedings on Saturday and in a misdemeanor courtroom this morning. German, appearing at a press conference outside City Hall, said agents today took one of his organization’s clients—who faced misdemeanor assault charges—into custody, while another abruptly left the courtroom to avoid arrest.
“What can I tell our clients? Is it safe for them to come to court, to deal with a misdemeanor charge that they may be innocent of?” said German, himself the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. “Or am I to tell them, ‘if you come here, ICE could be waiting in the audience, and they’re going to lock you up as soon as you leave?”
An ICE spokesperson denied that the agency had made any arrest on Saturday, but could not comment on any action from this morning. The representative insisted the agency does not arbitrarily stake out courthouses, but will on occasion send its officers to apprehend somebody if they know they are due in court at a particular date and time.
The actions German described, against people in the early steps of the prosecution process or facing low-level charges, would appear to be in keeping with Trump’s recent executive orders, which vastly expanded President Barack Obama’s policy of targeting undocumented immigrants convicted of violent offenses for deportation.
Under Trump, any foreign national lacking paperwork accused of any crime can face expulsion from the country. Recent DHS memos have outlined plans to expedite deportation proceedings and boost staffing, and to force Mexican nationals awaiting trial for immigration charges to return to their native land rather than remaining in the United States.
German acknowledged that ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations have made arrests at New York County Courthouse in the past. But he insisted that immigration action against individuals prior any formal ruling or verdict is unprecedented.
“It was always focused on people with violent felonies, prior deportation orders, under certain circumstances,” he said. “To start showing up at arraignments, and like, misdemeanor courtrooms, that’s kind of unheard of.”
New York County Defender Services contracts with the city to provide counsel to people who cannot afford a private attorney.
This afternoon, ICE announced it had arrested a Salvadoran national and”self-admitted” member of the MS-13 gang in Queens last week. The press release referred the person in custody by two different surnames in the release emailed to reporters, but apparently later amended this error on its website.
The agency reported that it had requested the city detain the man while he was held on Rikers Island for a disorderly conduct arrest. ICE said the Department of Corrections had refused, which would be in keeping with New York’s “sanctuary city” policies, whereby it only honors ICE detainers for individuals arrested for violent crimes.
Last month, Trump signed an executive order calling for a complete cut-off of federal funding to “sanctuary cities,” though the edict did not define the term. Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to fight the decree in court should the federal government attempt to withhold any of the $7 billion New York City receives annually from Washington.
The city’s general policy of noncompliance with ICE does not prevent federal authorities from taking action within city limits without the cooperation of local law enforcement.
German was one of several advocates speaking at Queens Councilman Rory Lancman’s press conference on the City Hall steps, where they collectively urged de Blasio to stop charging turnstile jumpers with misdemeanors. Continuing to do so, they warned, would enable ICE in its new Trump-given mission.
The mayor’s office noted that only 30 percent of farebeaters face criminal charges, while 70 percent receive only a civil summons. That 30 percent largely consists of repeat offenders, individuals with three or more outstanding summonses and those with outstanding arrest warrants for other offenses.
“The remedy to a broken immigration policy is not to undermine an effective policing strategy that has helped make New York City the safest big city in the nation,” said spokesman Austin Finan.
Lancman did not deny at the event that he was considering challenging de Blasio in the September Democratic primary. Such a bid would make him the third white outer borough Democrat seeking to unseat the liberal mayor, as Queens State Senator Tony Avella and former Brooklyn Councilman Sal Albanese have already launched their own campaigns.
Updated to include perspective from ICE.