‘I don’t think it’s appropriate.’ Judge disagrees with ICE arrest at Fresno courthouse

ICE make arrests at Fresno County Court

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents began making arrests in mid-July 2018 at the Fresno County Superior Court, prompting concerns over violations of the individuals' due process.
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Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents began making arrests in mid-July 2018 at the Fresno County Superior Court, prompting concerns over violations of the individuals' due process.

A Fresno Superior Court judge voiced his discontent Wednesday over a recent arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement of an undocumented man who was scheduled to appear as a defendant in his courtroom.

Meanwhile, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of California and the Fresno County Public Defender’s Office on Wednesday voiced condemnation of ICE’s recent courthouse arrests.

Judge David Gottlieb was scheduled to hear Juan Gutierrez Morales’ case Tuesday morning, but two ICE agents nabbed Morales before he could even appear before him.

Morales, 30, of Huron, was arrested in April on 11 felony charges of alleged forgery of driver’s licenses, identification cards, and possession of forged documents, according to his criminal complaint. He had been released on a $80,000 bail after pleading not guilty.

“The court will make the record that I don’t think it’s appropriate for them to be removing him from court,” Gottlieb said, adding that the practice is especially concerning because Morales was taken even though he hadn’t had the opportunity to go before the judge.

Another hearing for Morales’ case was set for Aug. 28. Morales’ lawyer, Alberto Garcia, who wasn’t present when his client was arrested Tuesday by ICE, said Gottlieb will allow some time to see if Morales shows up in court.

“He (Morales) may be able to make some arrangements and bail out on the immigration hold,” Garcia, his attorney, said. “Sometimes they allow that.”

If that is the case, Morales would have to appear at the immigration court in San Francisco. He would then be able to return to address his criminal case.

Arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at Fresno Superior Court have prompted concerns among some attorneys over whether their clients’ rights to due process are being violated.

In the meantime, Garcia is trying to find out what’s going to be the fate of his client. He doesn’t know whether ICE will make him take a voluntary deportation or if he will have a deportation hearing. Morales was detained at the ICE facility in Fresno on Tuesday.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Garcia said. “His family wants to know, obviously the court wants to know, and I want to know to see how we are going to proceed with his defense.”

The problem with these kinds of arrests, Garcia said, is that the court still has jurisdiction over those undocumented defendants.

“They want to give the person their day in court,” he said. “They have hundreds of people on calendar that now may not show up, so it creates a huge problem. I don’t think that’s going to work well with the court.”

Garcia believes the court will be “more proactive” now that it realizes ICE agents are coming into the courthouse and arresting people.

“I do think the court is probably going to take some action, Judge Gottlieb voiced his displeasure with this whole thing, that this is not right,” he said.

Despite Judge Gottlieb’s comments Wednesday, Fresno Superior Court Presiding Judge Alan M. Simpson has remained tight-lipped on the issue.

Furthermore, Fresno County Superior Court spokeswoman Suzanne Abi-Rached maintains the court has no knowledge of the arrests.

The arrests at the courthouse began last week, prompting concerns among lawyers over the violation of their clients’ rights to due process.

ICE spokesman Richard Rocha on Wednesday said there have been five arrests at the courthouse in the past week. He said such practices are consistent with longstanding enforcement actions across the country.

“The State of California has made it difficult for ICE to streamline apprehending criminal aliens released from local custody and ICE must instead use other methods to apprehend individuals when we know their expected locations -- like at courthouses,” Rocha said in a statement to The Bee. “Further, many of the aliens ICE is targeting have taken affirmative measures to avoid detection by ICE officers.”

A handful of members of Faith in Fresno on Wednesday morning gathered outside the Superior Court before going inside the courthouse to observe, and distribute information on individuals’ rights if detained by ICE. The religious organization also passed out information on how to get in touch with their rapid-response team, which assist people facing threats of deportation.

“We are here to fight for the due process of all individuals, including immigrants,” said Ariana Martinez Lott, with Faith in Fresno.

Meanwhile, Fresno County Public Defender Elizabeth Diaz on Wednesday aired her agency’s concerns over the recent arrests.

“I don’t believe that’s an appropriate place for ICE to be there,” she said. “I think it’s really affecting the right to come to court. No where does it say the immigration status is recognized. Everyone is entitled to equal justice (based) on the law, and not based on their immigration status.”

Diaz, the public defender, disagrees with the way ICE is handling the arrests, saying it will prevent defendants, victims and witnesses from coming to court.

“It affects the business of the court and the administration of justice,” she said. “If more arrests happen, we will be seeing more individuals with failures to appear and that will affect cases in the courthouse.”

Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp has not commented on the issue.

Maria Romani, with the ACLU of California’s Immigrants’ Rights Policy Attorney, emphasized everyone regardless of their citizenship status has a right to go into a courthouse without a threat of deportation.

“When ICE agents arrest people at courthouses, they are improperly interfering with the state’s judicial systems and undermine people’s basic right of access to the courts and to due process of the law,” Romani said.

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