When Gurvinder Singh and Kuldeet Kaur went to the Kern County Courthouse in 2012 to get married they believed it would mark the beginning of a new chapter in their lives.
The couple’s trip to the Bakersfield court quickly turned into a nightmare after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested Singh, even though he had broken no laws and had a pending asylum case in immigration court. He was later released and is still awaiting a decision on his case.
Singh’s arrest wasn’t an aberration. Rather it was the result of a misguided ICE practice that allowed agents to roam Kern County courthouses and arrest individuals they believed to be in the country illegally. Over the past few years, numerous Kern County residents have been picked up while they attempt to pay traffic tickets or access court services such as restraining orders.
In October, the ACLU denounced the agency’s tactics. ICE responded this month by agreeing to put an end to immigration enforcement at Kern County courthouses, absent exigent circumstances.
ICE deserves high marks for halting a practice that undermines public safety and runs counter to the agency’s stated enforcement priorities that require agents to focus on immigrants who pose a threat to public safety.
No one wins if immigrants and their families are too scared to access the legal system, fearing a mother, father or sibling could be deported simply because he or she tried to pay a parking ticket.
Unfortunately, ICE's troubling tactics have not been limited to Kern County. ICE needs to take the next step and modify their policies to make clear that courthouse sweeps are not warranted in Kern County or any other part of the country. If it makes sense to keep immigration agents out of one courthouse, it makes sense to keep them out of all courthouses.
Michael Kaufman is staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. Follow him: @mk2842