ICE's New Jersey Courthouse Activity Limited by New Rules

On Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Stuart Rabner issued a new set of rules limiting the power of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in courthouses. The directive requires court officials to ask federal immigration agents to show a warrant if they attempt to arrest anyone in a courthouse for civil immigration offenses. They also prohibit state law enforcement from providing information about individuals to ICE if it is not already publicly available.

"To ensure the effectiveness of the justice system, courthouses must be viewed by the public, all parties, victims, and witnesses as a neutral and safe forum to resolve disputes,'' said Rabner in the directive. Rabner said that courthouse arrests were rare before the directive, and John Tsoukaris, ICE’s Field Office Director in Newark, said his office will minimize these arrests.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced the rules at a Thursday afternoon press conference. He commented that the new regulations would strengthen trust between the state’s law enforcement and its diverse immigrant community.

“We’re telling our friends and our neighbors, who have been living in fear, [that] you can trust state law enforcement, and you can trust state prosecutors here in New Jersey,” said Gurbir.

Why Were These Rules Created?

Arrests inside of courthouses caused concern for immigration advocates, who argue they prevent victims of crimes from showing up to court out of fear of being detained. Immigration advocates assert that fear of ICE makes our communities less safe for everyone. For many in law enforcement and the community, the rules preserve the bond needed between law enforcement and the community to create an effective justice system.

"These changes acknowledge how disruptive ICE enforcement actions can be to the administration of justice in New Jersey,'' said Farrin Anello, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. "When the federal government carries out civil immigration arrests at our state courthouses, immigrant New Jerseyans cannot meaningfully participate in our state court system, and this harms public safety and justice alike."

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal also commented that the rules are a matter of practicality for the state’s law enforcement. He stated that law enforcement officials would be able to focus on solving crimes and protecting the public rather than carrying out a politicized immigration enforcement policy.

This Is the Most Recent Addition to New Jersey’s Immigration & Law Enforcement Reforms

This directive joins a pattern of policies in New Jersey which focus on preserving trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement. In March, New Jersey officials unveiled the Immigrant Trust Directive, a set of rules which prohibit law enforcement officers from searching or detaining immigrants at the request of ICE. Supporters of the reforms argue that they are needed because law enforcement in a community that doesn’t trust officers is incredibly difficult. The rules protect officers, assist them with doing their job, and give local communities peace of mind.