Elected District Attorney Marco Serna’s office, the state’s Law Offices of the Public Defender, and the New México Office of the Attorney General joined with local immigrants’ rights groups to file a combined lawsuit asking a federal court to block Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from conducting immigration arrests in and around state courthouses. Since 2017, ICE officers have increasingly used New Méxicourthouses as venues for arresting people suspected of violating civil immigration law. This practice, publicly opposed by hundreds of New México legal professionals, legal associations, and community groups, endangers public safety by making immigrants and their families afraid to seek justice before a court when they have been a victim or witness to a crime.
“The very sanctity of our courthouses is at stake,” said Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur. “If immigrants and their families fear appearing at court to pay a traffic fine, testify as a witness, defend themselves in a criminal matter or seek justice as a victim, then we all suffer.”
Under the Trump administration, ICE drastically increased the use of civil arrests of immigrants inside and around courthouses throughout the nation as those individuals made appearances for matters unrelated to their immigration status. ICE agents have used this tactic in New México, stalking the grounds of courthouses throughout the state and arresting multiple individuals based on violations of civil immigration law as they tried to access the courts.
“The very sanctity of our courthouses is at stake. If immigrants and their families fear appearing at court to pay a traffic fine, testify as a witness, defend themselves in a criminal matter or seek justice as a victim, then we all suffer.”
Bennett Baur, Chief Public Defender
The plaintiffs represent a range of actors in the state court system—criminal prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, civil litigants, and community organizations—all of whom have directly felt the impact of ICE’s policy of civilly arresting people in and around New Mexico state courthouses.
“The actions of immigration enforcement officers, who grab immigrants from courtrooms, hallways, and parking lots, often utilizing administrative warrants unsigned by judges to justify their seizures, are a serious impediment to delivering justice and ensuring public safety,” said Mary Carmack-Altwies, incoming District Attorney for the 1st Judicial District.
“Not only do defendants miss their chance at a fair day in court, such actions frighten victims and witnesses away from the courtroom, making prosecution of those responsible for crimes nearly impossible and leaving all of those involved in the process in a suspended reality where justice cannot be served. The result of seizing immigrants–whether defendants, victims, or witnesses–is ultimately chilling on justice, which must be stopped.”
As one of the plaintiff organizations in the lawsuit, El CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos expressed concerns about the chilling impact courthouse arrests by ICE is having on public safety and in affording immigrants equal access to justice. In the past three years, El CENTRO has experienced an uptick of calls from community members who are terrified to go to court.
“I recently had a traffic ticket that resulted from a routine traffic stop,” said Edelmira Hernández, a member of El CENTRO, “Yet I was too afraid to go inside the court. I shouldn’t feel like I am the target of persecution while I am trying to abide by the law and resolve something so miniscule, it simply isn’t right nor fair.”
“Victims of crime should be allowed to come out of the shadows to assist prosecutors and have their cases heard without interference in the judicial process,” said Attorney General Balderas. “Federal and state law enforcement must sensibly collaborate to make our community safer.”
Last week’s lawsuit alleges that ICE’s practice of conducting civil immigration arrests on courthouse grounds violates federal law and creates an unconstitutional barrier to accessing justice in the courts. Further, it is an impermissible interference with the state of New México’s sovereign judicial and police functions in violation of the Tenth Amendment. In the suit, the plaintiffs ask that the courts declare these types of arrests unlawful and enjoin ICE and its agents from continuing this practice moving forward.
Representing the plaintiffs in this lawsuit are Leon Howard and María Martínez Sánchez of the American Civil Liberties Union of New México; Julio Romero and Bruce Thompson of Martínez, Hart, Thompson, P.C.; and David Urias and Larissa Lozano of Freedman, Boyd, Hollander, Goldberg, Urias, and Ward, P.A.
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