Friday, February 09, 2018

Courthouse Arrests

Even apart from "Dreamers," the debate over sanctuary cities and, in a larger sense illegal immigration, rages on.  In September Attorney General Jefferson B. Sessions III

chided Portland and other sanctuary cities, saying they've become a "trafficker's, a smuggler's or gang member's best friend" and defended the Trump administration's threats to withhold federal grants from them.

The cities "believe they are above the law," Sessions said, urging them to reconsider their policies. Their refusal to alert immigration officials about the release of offenders who are in the country illegally leads to increases in crime, gang violence and lawlessness, he said.

When a sanctuary city- as do some- refuse to cooperate with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, they are holding themselves above the law, as Sessions argued. It should be strange, then, that this would be necessary:

About 75 public defenders walked out of Bronx Criminal Court Thursday afternoon in protest of the sudden detention of one of their clients following a routine court date.

The walk-out dramatized the ongoing dissatisfaction by immigrant advocates with federal agents, whose presence at the courthouses they say intimidates witnesses and victims from coming forward for fear of being deported.

The defendant in this case, 27-year-old Aboubacar Dembele, was brought to the U.S. at age 3 from Ivory Coast, his attorneys said. He had appeared in court on an assault charge stemming from an altercation on a bus in December, according to court records. It was his first arrest in New York City, according to police.

Dembele's wife, Zaquera Laniere, 24,  a U.S. citizen, was with her husband when he was suddenly detained. The minute the couple stepped out of the courthouse, she said, they were surrounded.

"It was like eight of them stepped in front of us," she said. "It's like an ambush. You finish one case. You're walking out freely. But as soon as you step outside you're going right back into handcuffs."

That's bad. But it gets worse as

Officers mentioned Dembele's DACA application, which had been denied just a few weeks ago, she said.

"We got to take you in. Your DACA got denied," she said Immigration Officials told them, before taking her husband away. 

A spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn't immediately confirm Dembele's detention.

Among the people here illegally- as Dembele presumably is- those whose arrest should be of the lowest priority are those who have recently attempted to comply with the law, thereby attempting to become part of America's rich tapestry (albeit without citizenship).

Targeting such individuals is consistent with targeting individuals in courthouses, as ICE cowardly goes after the low-hanging fruit.   ICE agents reportedly are increasingly raiding courthouses, where people are on their best behavior and unarmed while law enforcement officers of all kinds are less conspicuous.

The message is clear. If you do as the Judiciary- whether local, state,or federal- orders, you'll risk arrest. Comply with a legally binding writ, and your freedom is in jeopardy. If you instead disregard the court by avoiding a mandated appearance and displaying contempt for legally-constituted authority, you will remain at liberty and able to commit (additional) crimes.

Cooperate with federal law enforcement, Sessions lectures municipalities and states. However, those same federal agents aren't expected to cooperate with local and state governments, whose courts depend on appearances by defendants, witnesses, and others to run smoothly and protect the community.

Raid employers and arrest illegal immigrants and employers. Raid churches, at which an individual's presence is voluntary, and make arrest(s) if the violator is of a high priority. But arresting an individual at a courthouse is both cowardly and undermines respect for the law.

That's something even the chief law enforcement officer for Donald J. Trump should understand.

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