ICE making arrests at Fresno courthouse, and attorneys concerned over due process

Arrests being conducted 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.

Others wonder about the kind of message the activity will send to the local undocumented immigrant community.

Attorneys say ICE began arresting people at the Fresno courthouse last week. “This place used to be sacred. Now ICE comes without an invitation,” Fresno attorney Nicholas Reyes said Tuesday at the court, after his client was arrested by agents inside the Fresno courthouse.

ICE agents are shown leading a suspect down the hall of Fresno County Superior Court on Tuesday. Pablo Lopez

While an ICE official was not able to confirm the arrests this week, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office was able to confirm ICE agents have been detaining people at the Superior Court, and will likely continue.

Tony Botti, spokesman for the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed ICE had been making arrests at the courthouse. “We have not been given prior notification prior to them doing so nor do we require them doing so,” he said.

Botti said the sheriff’s office had “no problem” with ICE not alerting local authorities of the arrests. “They don’t need our permission to do their jobs,” he said. “This is a state building. They have access.” He didn’t want to provide judgment on whether it’s appropriate for ICE to carry out arrests at the courthouse and said he would “give discretion on the agency doing the investigation.”

Rev. Deacon Nancy Key, with Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin and a member of Faith in Fresno’s Clergy Caucus, said ICE’s “targeting people at court is not only an attack on families, but also an attack on due process in our community.” “Immigrants are vital members of our families, neighborhoods and faith communities here in Fresno and across the Central Valley,” she said in a statement to The Bee.

“Everyone in our community deserves to be treated fairly by law enforcement and the judicial system, no matter their background, their race or ethnicity, or where they were born.” Reyes identified his client as Bryan David Galdamez, 25, of Fresno.

According to court records, Galdamez was arrested in April on a felony charge of suspicion of domestic violence. After pleading not guilty on April 13, he had been free on a $25,000 bail. Reyes said Galdamez had attended all of his court dates and the judge and prosecutor had just agreed Tuesday to let him plead to a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence.

Reyes said he was troubled by ICE coming to the courthouse unannounced. He said Galdamez had a job and was staying out of trouble. And a provision in the plea agreement said his misdemeanor conviction would not lead to his deportation. “There was supposed to be no ICE consequences,” Reyes said. “But ICE just went in there and took him away.”

Juan Gutierrez Morales, 30, was also handcuffed by ICE agents inside the courthouse Tuesday without his lawyer being present. Morales, of Huron, was arrested in April on 11 felony charges of forging driver’s licenses and identification cards, and possession of the forged documents, a criminal complaint says.

After pleading not guilty to the charges, he had been free on $80,000 bail, according to court records. His arrest Tuesday surprised his lawyer, Alberto Garcia, who said Morales had made all of his court appearances and stayed out of trouble. The two ICE agents who arrested Morales declined to give their names or comment.

But as Morales left the courtroom in handcuffs, he looked at Fresno attorney Scott Baly and said: “They are taking me away.”

Before his arrest, Morales had been sitting quietly in the courtroom waiting for his criminal case to be called by the judge. After ICE took Morales away, Judge David Gottlieb called his criminal case. Gottlieb was going to hold Morales in contempt of court for failing to appear, but Garcia explained to the judge that ICE had just arrested his client.

Michael Aed, a criminal defense attorney and vice president for La Raza Lawyers Association, said he’s been informed ICE has been active at the Superior Court, and Monday between 10 and 11:30 a.m. arrested Saul Navez Garcia.

Navez Garcia was arrested in April and booked into the Fresno County Jail on two felony charges of drunken driving causing injury and two misdemeanor charges of driving without a license and without insurance, according to court records.

On April 4, Navez Garcia, using a Spanish interpreter, pleaded not guilty to the charges. Five days later, Judge Don Penner allowed him to be free on $15,000 bail. He was present for his court hearings on May 14 and June 25, according to court records. He was scheduled to appear in court again on Monday.

“The man walked outside of the courtroom and three ICE officials were outside of the courtroom sitting on benches in plain clothes,” Aed said.

Aed said he believes such activity will cause undocumented people not to show up to court to take care of their cases, and that some witnesses will be less likely to report crimes and even participate in subpoenas for other cases. “It’s just wrong. It’s wrong,” he said. “It’s concerning to me.”

Carter Sears, an attorney with the Fresno County Public Defender’s Office, said he was aware of two incidents last week where ICE made arrests at the courthouse, one of which took place July 17.

Sears said that in that case, the man (who he declined to name) had been sentenced to a domestic violence misdemeanor — his first offense. The man, whose wife is a U.S. citizen and has two young children born in the country, was deported to Mexico within two days of his arrest, Sears said.

The second incident happened on Friday when ICE agents announced they were looking for someone in particular, but the defendant failed to show up in court that day, Sears said.

The defendant was scheduled to have his arraignment Friday for a case of alleged public drunkenness. ICE activities have caused much concern because “people need to feel safe when they are out there in the community,” Sears said.

On Jan. 10, 2018, ICE released a memo on civil immigration enforcement inside courthouses. The policy applies for federal, state and local courthouses. Such arrests are often needed due to a lack of local jurisdictions’ willingness to cooperate with ICE in transferring undocumented individuals, according to the memo.

Sears said he believes the action by ICE is retribution for California being a sanctuary state. “What ICE is doing is playing politics with the judicial system,” he said.

Justin Sweeney, an immigration attorney in Fresno, on Monday was in San Francisco for one of his client’s first hearing. His client, who Sweeney said he didn’t feel comfortable naming, was arrested by ICE agents dressed in plainclothes in late June. ICE agents pretended to be local authorities, Sweeney said.

His client, who is being accused of a crime that is still pending, had a court hearing a day after being detained by ICE. Sweeney said his client has no criminal history aside from the accusation he’s currently facing. He declined to elaborate on what the accusation entails, but said, “in America, you are innocent until proven guilty...They are denying those people their due process.”

Richard Rocha, an ICE spokesman, was not able to confirm the recent arrests. On Tuesday, he said he was still waiting for information to respond to The Bee’s inquiry. “We make arrests everyday and they are all over the country,” he said, when asked if the arrests were just happening in the courthouse in Fresno, or whether other Valley courthouses are being targeted as well.

California Supreme Court Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has been vocal about her opposition to the practice of courthouse arrests in the past, and asked for that kind of activity by ICE to be halted in California courthouses.

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, is the author of Senate Bill 183, which would prevent those kinds of arrests in courthouses and court proceedings. “Our leaders have asked the federal government to cease the stalking of immigrants in our courts, but they are treated with contempt,” he said in a statement to The Bee.

“California must protect the public’s right to participate in court proceedings and permit the courts to fulfill their responsibility in our society.” He said arrests in courthouses, such as the ones that have transpired at the Fresno in recent days, “have a chilling effect on our democracy.”

UPDATE: The Legislature approved Lara’s bill on Aug. 31, the last day of the session.

Fresno County Superior Court Presiding Judge Alan M. Simpson didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday. Court spokeswoman Suzanne Abi-Rached on Tuesday said the courthouse had no knowledge of ICE arrests.

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