Judge condemns ICE arrest inside courtroom, says judges should control courtroom, ‘not ICE’

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.

Sacramento County Superior Court Presiding Judge David De Alba on Monday criticized the arrest of a man last week by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials inside a courtroom, and pledged to work with local authorities — and ICE if needed — to prevent this situation from happening again.

Last week’s arrest was considered to be the first in California to take place inside an actual courtroom. ICE in mid-July began to make arrests at various courthouses, but those arrests were made in the hallways.

ICE took a step further with the Sacramento arrest.

“Arrests that occur inside of a state courthouse and especially inside of a courtroom are disruptive of courtroom proceedings,” De Alba said a statement. “Our Court regrets the decision by ICE agents to execute an arrest warrant inside one of our courtrooms. The fear of immigration arrest deters witnesses and crime victims from coming forward to participate in the prosecution of crimes and the resolution of child custody, landlord-tenant, personal injury, and other claims”

De Alba said as the presiding judge of Sacramento County Superior Court, he “did not like what happened last week and will work with local sheriff and, if necessary, with ICE representatives, to avoid this from happening again.”

ICE agents are shown making an arrest at the Fresno Superior Court in July 2018.

The arrest also was criticized by Califorrnia’s chief justice, the ACLU and others.

“Continuing to make immigration arrests at state courts and especially in our courtrooms is disruptive, shortsighted, and counterproductive. It is damaging to community safety and disrespects the state court system,” Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye said. “Last year, I asked federal immigration authorities to treat courthouses as ‘sensitive areas,’ much as schools, churches, and hospitals are treated. My position has not changed.”

Vasudha Talla, staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, released a statement saying “everyone, regardless of their citizenship status, has the right to enter a courtroom without the threat of deportation. When members of our community are scared to go to the courts, their constitutionally protected right to due process is undermined.

“By scaring people away from courthouses, ICE threatens the public health and safety of the entire community. This is exactly the kind of enforcement approach that causes immigrant communities to fear cooperation with law enforcement officials. “

Representatives from the National Lawyers Guild and the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund also issued statements critical of the arrest.

But ICE defended the action and made it clear its agents will continue to seek out immigrants in the state’s courtrooms.

Its statement noted that other law enforcement agencies routinely engage in enforcement activity in courthouses throughout the country, adding that “ICE’s enforcement activities in these same courthouses are wholly consistent with longstanding law enforcement practices nationwide.”

It also took a shot at the state of California for making it difficult to “streamline apprehending criminal aliens released from local custody.”

As a result, “ICE will continue to use all other available methods to apprehend individuals when we know their expected locations – like at courthouses,” the statement said. “Individuals entering courthouses are typically screened by law enforcement personnel to search for weapons and other contraband,” making arrests there safer for all parties.

Immigrants' rights advocates gathered for a community rally to protest recent arrests by ICE at the Fresno courthouse, prior to the TRUTH Act forum at the Board of Supervisors meeting.

During last Wednesday’s incident, Superior Court Judge Lawrence Brown was concluding the arraignment for Yovanny Ontiveros-Cebreros when ICE agents began moving toward him and handcuffed him. Ontiveros-Cebreros attorney, Charles Pacheco asked Brown to step in.

Brown then placed Ontiveros-Cebreros in the area that’s behind the bar that’s designated for defendants who are in custody before hearing another 10 cases. After he concluded hearing his other cases, he went into his chambers only to return to the bench and say ICE had a warrant for the arrest of Ontiveros-Cebreros.

Ontiveros-Cebreros entered a not guilty plea to two felony charges Wednesday before being arrested. The charges included possession of a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance for sale.

Yesenia Amaro: 559-441-6144; @YeseniaAmaro