The ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) has learned that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) violated its commitment, announced on January 10, 2014, that it would no longer conduct enforcement actions at Kern County courthouses.
DHS’s announcement was made in response to an ACLU SoCal letter that documented several cases in which immigration agents arrested people at courthouses as they attempted to pay traffic tickets or applied for marriage licenses. In the letter ACLU SoCal explained that such arrests undermined public safety by deterring people from complying with legal obligations, serving as witnesses and accessing the courts for services such as obtaining restraining orders.
Yet less than a month after DHS announced its new policy and assured the public that the Kern County courthouses are safe locations, the agency has executed a classic “bait and switch.” While immigration agents have refrained from conducting arrests at the courthouse, they have arrested unsuspecting people after they leave the courthouse grounds.
DHS’s tactics violate the spirit and intent of its stated policy. Whether immigration agents arrest people on the courthouse grounds or after they leave the premises, it will deter individuals from accessing the legal system and undermine public safety.
In one case Rodrigo Arenas Ventura went to the courthouse to pay a driving ticket and brought a copy of DHS’s January 10 statement to ensure that he would not be arrested. Immigration agents arrived at Ventura’s home days later and arrested him.
In another case Luciano Sandoval was arrested by immigration agents two days after he paid a ticket at the courthouse. Agents informed Sandoval that they identified him because he had paid his ticket.
“DHS has engaged in the worst kind of dirty play by tricking unsuspecting residents like Mr. Arenas and Mr. Sandoval into believing that the Kern County courthouse is a safe location,” said Michael Kaufman, staff attorney with ACLU SoCal. “ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] must immediately put a stop to these deceitful tactics and ensure that all residents can safely access the courthouse without fear of deportation.”
Download DHS's letter to ACLU SoCal (1/10/14)
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