Union Fights to Break ICE From City Courts

The union is standing up against Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents parking themselves in our city courthouses, intimidating immigrants seeking legal help.

As part of a draconian Trump administration plan, ICE agents have been out in force implementing an enforcement policy supposedly intended to “target criminals.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, the ICE agents have created an atmosphere of anxiety and fear for New York’s undocumented immigrants, preventing many from appearing in court in a wide variety of cases.

According to The New York Law Journal, in an article published in February, ICE agents arrested more than 130 undocumented immigrants at courthouses in New York, with nearly two-thirds of the arrests in the city‘s courthouses.

Research by the Immigrant Project, which monitors the agency’s presence in New York court facilities, noted that there were only 11 arrests by ICE at New York courthouses in 2016.

Fausto Sabatino, president of Court, County and Department of Probation Employees Local 1070, is deeply concerned about this issue.

“People come into the court system looking for justice,” he said. “For example, you have a victim of domestic violence who is an undocumented immigrant. That person is afraid to go to the hospital, to go to the police.”

“And there are so many uncertainties when appearing in court, because the court system is denying these people the right to justice, by allowing ICE to be waiting at the courthouse door,” Sabatino said.

Sabatino acted on members’ concern about the presence of ICE in the courthouses. “My members include Court Interpreters and ICE has approached to assist them,” he said. “My members strongly feel that ICE does not belong there.”

The court workers decided to take a stand.

David Wayne, a Court Interpreter and a local chapter chair, worked to pass a resolution against the agency’s presence at a Local 1070 general meeting in December.

“What we first noticed in civil court was there were fewer people coming forward to claim stolen wages,” he said. “Then when we talked to our colleagues in criminal court, and they told us that ICE was waiting outside the courtroom to arrest people.”

At a DC 37 Delegates meeting on Feb. 20, a Local 1070 member, Court Interpreter Leonard Morin, brought a resolution to the floor to condemn the actions by these agents and to call for excluding ICE from the city’s courthouses. Morin talked about what undocumented immigrants endure at the court.

“For example, family members of those who have been arrested and want to come to post bail, or to lend support have been terrified to come here,” he said. Members of other locals also spoke in favor of the resolution, which Delegates passed overwhelmingly.

“This is a sanctuary city, and the policy here is for the federal government not to interfere in the affairs of our city. In what I see, ICE interferes with the administration of justice,” Morin said.

On March 15, DC 37 members joined a rally and marched from Foley Square in downtown Manhattan against ICE presence in the courts.

This story appeared in the April 2018 issue of Public Employee Press, the official publication of District Council 37, AFSCME, which represents 125,000 municipal workers in New York City.

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