Courthouse raids by federal immigration officials over the past several months are spooking New Jersey's foreign-born population.

In a survey of nearly 60 New Jersey legal and social service providers who interact with immigrants regularly, the majority said their clients feared to enter the courts or asking for their help.

The accompanying report from a coalition of New Jersey-based immigrant advocacy groups points to "substantially increased immigration enforcement" since President Donald Trump took office at the start of 2017 — with a significant increase in the presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in and around state and municipal courts.

Arrests in Passaic, Dunellen and Freehold municipal courts, as well as in and around the Middlesex County courthouse, triggered the poll and survey.

"Almost 72 percent of the service providers who responded to the survey reported that they had clients who were afraid to interact with the courts because of ICE," said Lauren Herman, staff attorney with Make the Road New Jersey and an author of the report. "Fifty-six percent of the respondents said that they had clients who declined to attend municipal court because they were afraid of ICE."

The fear of getting handcuffed on site, and possibly detained and deported, may also be stopping individuals from requesting the court's assistance. Sixty-three percent of respondents cite clients who are afraid to file restraining orders. Fifty-five percent have clients who failed to file petitions or complaints.

"We think that conducting arrests in the courthouse is particularly problematic because of the broad-based chilling effect that it has, and it really interferes with the justice system," Herman said.

The chief justice of the state's highest court felt the same way in April. Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, urging that such arrests not take place in courthouses.

DHS offered no official response, Herman noted.

So the coalition's report includes a list of recommendations for the state to implement itself in order to "protect the integrity of the justice system."

Those recommendations include adoption of a clear policy that would prohibit related civil arrests within a state or municipal courthouse, adoption of a clear policy that prohibits court employees from collecting information about the citizenship or immigration status of individuals within the courthouse, and developing a system to track data on ICE interactions in the courts and the impact of ICE's presence.

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