ICE still making courthouse arrests in California as sanctuary law goes unenforced

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency explained in 30 seconds

In footage provided by the U.S. government agency, here's a snapshot of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which enforces immigration, trade and customs laws in this country.
Up Next
In footage provided by the U.S. government agency, here's a snapshot of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which enforces immigration, trade and customs laws in this country.

ICE agents last week made an arrest at the Fresno County Superior Court in spite of direction from California’s top law-enforcement official limiting immigration enforcement in state courthouses.

Ultimately, no state agency has authority over the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement – but none takes responsibility for making sure state facilities, such as courthouses, are in compliance with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s September directive.

California Supreme Court Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has asked ICE to stop stalking California courthouses as those locations shouldn’t be used to enforce the country’s immigration laws.

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

A spokesman for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office said it’s business as usual at the courthouse. Questions posed to the court spokeswoman about the issue went unanswered, and other agencies including the AG’s office deferred questions about implementing its top cop’s policy to the local court.

A spokesman for ICE confirmed that agents arrested Oscar Rene Perez at the Fresno courthouse on March 27. Perez was facing felony domestic violence charges for assault with a deadly weapon and making criminal threats.

ICE spokesman Richard A. Rocha said agents who took Perez into custody were acting on “administrative arrest authority.”

ICE agents typically write and sign their own administrative warrants that they present when they make arrests. Becerra’s guidelines indicate an ICE warrant doesn’t grant an agent “any special power to compel courthouse personnel to cooperate with his or her request.”

The guidelines also state that immigration officers “should not have access to restricted areas of court facilities” without a judicial warrant. A judicial warrant is based on probable cause and is signed by a judge.

Read Next

Sheriff’s spokesman criticizes Becerra

Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Botti said bailiffs at the Fresno courthouse aren’t treating ICE agents any differently now than before the Becerra directive.

“We don’t get into the details on why they are there or what certain paperwork they have,” Botti said. He added that bailiffs treat ICE agents the same as other law-enforcement officers who have business in the courthouse such as California Highway Patrol officers and FBI agents.

In an interview this week, Botti criticized Becerra’s stance: “It’s a personal bias of him and he’s inflicting that on law enforcement.”

Botti said the Sheriff’s Office would like to see the situation return to what it was like when the office was allowed to work with ICE.

Later in an email, Botti said the guideline’s “mandate is for (courthouse personnel) to limit immigration enforcement activity at court facilities to the fullest extent under the law.”

But, he added, Sheriff’s Office deputies are not courthouse employees; they are “merely contracted to carry out security services at court facilities.”

“Deputies check ICE agents through secure access points just as we do all other law enforcement officers,” Botti said. “This policy we follow is lawful.”

Botti also noted that ICE agents “are allowed to park in the underground garage if they have a need.” This is a restricted parking lot, not open to the public.

Though, in his email, he notes bailiffs comply with the guidelines.

Amid rumors of stepped up federal immigration raids, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Thursday Jan. 18, 2018, reminded employers of new state law that limits their ability to assist law enforcement in immigration raids.

Is Fresno courthouse in violation of sanctuary law?

Becerra’s guidelines recommend that courthouses keep record of such arrests, but Fresno courthouse spokeswoman Suzanne Abi-Rached initially said the ICE arrest wasn’t courthouse “business.”

Later in an email, Abi-Rached said the court “does not publish internal policies and procedures to the public,” without answering whether the court has implemented policies to comply with the attorney general’s guidelines, and if so, when. On Thursday morning, she said the courthouse had begun to review the guidelines.

Jennifer Molina with the Attorney General’s Office referred questions of oversight on those guidelines to the California Judicial Council.

Merrill Balassone with the Judicial Council referred questions back to the Fresno courthouse.

“The Judicial Council doesn’t have any oversight role in this area,” she said in an email.

Angela Chan, policy director and senior staff attorney at Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, said all three entities – the Attorney General’s Office, the Judicial Council and the Fresno courthouse – have responsibility to comply with Senate Bill 54, the state sanctuary law which includes provisions for how ICE deals with courthouse arrests.

“If the courthouse in Fresno has not adopted the model guidelines from the Attorney General’s office or an equivalent, then they are not complying with SB 54,” she said. “They are in violation of it.”

Related stories from Fresno Bee

Yesenia Amaro covers immigration and diverse communities for The Fresno Bee. She previously worked for the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia and the Las Vegas Review-Journal in Nevada. She recently received the 2018 Journalistic Integrity award from the CACJ. In 2015, she won the Outstanding Journalist of the Year Award from the Nevada Press Association, and also received the Community Service Award.