Lawyers say immigration arrests have chilling effect on NJ courts
The criminal justice reforms in effect since January that practically eliminated bail in New Jersey have had an unexpected side effect – increasing the number of undocumented immigrants going into federal custody.
Immigration attorney Michael Noriega, of the Bramnick, Rodriguez, Grabas, Arnold & Mangan law firm in Scotch Plains, said it used to be that people charged with crimes would quickly post bail, enabling them to be released from a police station after a few hours.
Now they’re held up to 48 hours while their risk of fleeing or committing another crime are assessed – making them more likely to flagged for detainers by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, if they aren’t in the country legally.
“We’ve had this influx of cases go from the criminal system into the immigration system,” Noriega said Monday at an Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing looking at the uptick in ICE arrests. “… We have the possibility of somebody being deported while their case is pending.
Noriega and other advocates told lawmakers the arrests, particularly those occurring at or outside courtrooms, are hurting undocumented immigrants’ willingness to show up for court or be a witness during prosecutions of crimes they witnessed.
“It is the arrest and the way in which that’s happening in our jurisdictions that is creating massive panic because they can avoid a criminal court appearance over an immigration court appearance because the stakes are so much higher,” Noriega said. “It’s created mass confusion and panic about going to a municipal court appearance because they might have to be a fine. They might be arrested overnight. But they’re not being removed for missing a DUI court appearance.”
Princeton Junction attorney Susan Roy, of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said one of her clients who has applied for a "U visa," a nonimmigrant visa available to crime victims who are willing to help with a prosecution, is now in ICE custody, picked up at a municipal court.
“If I can’t stop that deportation, he’s going to end up being deported despite the fact that he was a victim of a crime and aided law enforcement, over a traffic violation,” Roy said.
Roy says the arrests happening more frequently at the municipal courts, which she said is troubling because those are generally less serious, less violent offenders.
Noriega says one of his clients, a 19-year-old covered by the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, was arrested walking outside the Dunellen municipal court after a hearing for a DWI.
Noriega says some counties aren’t cooperating with ICE because its detainers aren’t judicial warrants.
“My understanding is that Bergen, Passaic and Hudson are cooperating counties. Middlesex, Union, Camden, Mercer, Somerset are not. And then I think the rest are doing it on an ad hoc basis,” he said.
Deanna Dyer, a staff attorney for the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence, said ICE raids in places such as Passaic, Paterson, Bound Brook, Plainfield, New Brunswick and Highland Park are discouraging victims from seeking judicial help.
“As a result, victims in need of critical protection from the courts are choosing not to request temporary restraining orders at all or are choosing not to follow through with requests for final restraining orders out of a fear of being placed on ICE’s radar,” Dyer said.
Make the Road New Jersey says ICE arrests in the state so far this year are up 20 percent from the same period in 2016 and deportations are up 30 percent. Among them have been six arrests at New Jersey courthouses, none with judicial warrants, said state director Sara Cullinane.
Cullinane encouraged lawmakers to consider passing a law clarifying that New Jersey agencies won’t help ICE unless the federal agency has obtained a judicial warrant, not just a detainer.
She said the state can also decline to provide access to its resources such as databases and public facilities.
John Armeno, executive director of the Sheriffs’ Association of New Jersey, told lawmakers his organization would attempt to gather data about ICE activity in courthouses around the country.
“I can appreciate ICE trying to make an arrest wherever they can. But they know these are fixed places that they can see and arrest that individual, and they’re probably going to go into the courts to do that or wait outside in the lobby area and arrest them when they leave the building,” Armeno said.