ICE arrests at Fresno courthouse may stop behind new sanctuary law policies

In the wake of recent arrests of undocumented immigrants at courthouses in Fresno and other locations, State Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued clarified details how law enforcement and other local agencies are expected to interact with federal immigration officials.

The most notable detail: Immigration agents “should not have access to restricted areas of court facilities” without a judicial warrant.

Keep in mind that in most cases, immigration officials only have an “ICE Administrative warrant,” which is not signed by a judge. And that difference in who authorized the warrant could stop ICE arrests at courthouses.

“An ICE warrant does not grant an immigration enforcement officer any special power to compel courthouse personnel to cooperate with his or her requests,” the recommendations read.

The new guidelines deal with the state’s sanctuary law, otherwise known as Senate Bill 54, limiting local jurisdictions participation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials in arresting undocumented immigrants.

Public agencies, including courthouses, colleges, medical facilities, emergency and temporary-housing shelters, and labor agencies, will have to implement the new model policies or an equivalent policy.

“Our values are clear: every single person in California should feel safe and secure studying in school or a library, seeking medical treatment or shelter, and pursuing justice in our courts,” Becerra said in statement. “Effective public safety, our economic vitality, and our strength as one community rely on building trust in one another and in our institutions.”

In mid-July, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents began to carry out arrests at the Fresno County Superior Court, prompting concerns over the individuals’ rights to due process.

ICE agents also made an appearance at the Tulare County Superior Court, plus detained an individual while his arraignment was concluding at the Sacramento County Superior Court in August.

Carter Sears, an attorney and adviser for the Fresno County Public Defender’s Office, said if the Fresno courthouse implements the guidance and recommended polices, the “ICE courthouse civil arrest” should stop.

That “would reduce a whole lot of disruption in the courthouse and the fear of people to come to court,” he said.

ICE Spokesman Richard A. Rocha said the agency didn’t have an immediate comment.

ICE told The Bee in July it had to resort to making arrests in places, such as courthouses, because California had made it difficult for the federal agency to detain individuals. Senate Bill 54 took effect Jan. 1.

At the time, ICE also said it had intentions to continue to carry out arrests in California courthouses. But the policies released Friday for courthouses specifically say a judge has the “authority” to control what happens in his courtroom and “ensure administration of justice.”

It’s also the responsibility of the presiding judge, under the new guidelines, to issue policies for the court to “promote access to justice for all members of the public.”

Information was also issued to help law enforcement agencies ensure that databases with non-criminal history information are used properly.

In addition to the model policies, the Attorney General’s Office recommends courthouses develop policies addressing issues like federal immigration officials’ access to restricted areas, detentions or arrests for immigration enforcement purposes and facilitating access to court services.

That’s significant locally because ICE agents, on at least two occasions, have been allowed to use areas at the Fresno courthouse that were deemed non-public areas.

“It is important to identify which areas of a courthouse are public,” the recommendations read. “It is also important to identify who can access the nonpublic (and) restricted sections of courthouse facilities. ”

Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday vetoed Senate Bill 349, which would have prevented civil arrests, such as those ICE has been carrying out at the Fresno Courthouse. The reasoning for him not signing the bill were the Attorney General’s Office guidelines.

Yesenia Amaro: 559-441-6144, @YeseniaAmaro
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