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NY Lawmakers Pass Bill Barring ICE Courthouse Arrests

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Close up of the Senate Chamber doors

A federal court decision handed down in June that barred federal immigration officers from arresting undocumented immigrants at state courthouses in New York will likely be codified into state law and expanded under a bill approved Wednesday by the state Legislature.

The legislation, called the Protect Our Courts Act, has been floated by Democrats for a few years now, but gained steam after last month’s court ruling.

The State Senate approved the measure largely along party lines Wednesday after the Assembly passed it earlier in the week. Lawmakers are back in Albany this week to approve a series of bills they couldn’t get to before the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, sponsored the bill with Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, D-Nassau.

“The Protect Our Courts Act, which I’m proud to sponsor with Assemblymember Solages, will get ICE out of our courthouses and make our justice system more just,” Hoylman said. “It will allow all New Yorkers to attend judicial proceedings, whether as a litigant, witness or family member.”

The legislation would make it illegal in New York for officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to arrest individuals for purposes of deportation in, and around, state courthouses without a warrant signed by a federal judge.

ICE agents also wouldn’t be allowed to arrest someone who’s either on their way to a state courthouse, or returning home from a court appearance, according to the legislation.

That includes anyone who’s attending a court appearance on their own behalf, or at the request of someone else. So, family members of people involved in a court appearance, including defendants, litigants, and witnesses, would also be protected under the bill.

The bill was spurred, in part, by a report from the Immigrant Defense Project, an advocacy group that documented a 1700% increase in the presence of ICE officers at state courthouses in New York in recent years.

“Over the past few years, ICE has repeatedly sent a clear message that it would stop at nothing to achieve its cruel, dehumanizing and destructive criminalizing and deportation agenda,” said Mizue Aizeki from the Immigrant Defense Project.

“In response to our coalition’s work documenting and illustrating the devastating impacts of ICE’s activities, New York’s courts and legislature have taken decisive action to protect our rights.”

Court officials in New York had previously issued a directive that barred civil immigration arrests within state courthouses without a judicial warrant. The bill approved Wednesday expands those protections to areas outside the court.

Last month, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that federal immigration officers couldn’t arrest individuals for purposes of deportation in, and around, state courthouses in New York. A lawsuit against the practice was brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

That means the practice was already unlawful, but lawmakers wanted to enshrine it into state law in case the decision was reversed.

The legislation will now be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has previously signaled his support for the measure.

We spoke to Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages about the

Protect Our Courts Act earlier this year. Watch that interview below: