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CHAIR

NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY Commission on Administrative


Regulations Review

DISTRICT OFFICE: COMMITTEES


3 1 - 1 9 N e w t o w n Av e n u e , S u i t e 4 0 1 , As t o r i a , N Y 1110 2 Banks
Corporations, Authorities
( 7 1 8 ) 5 4 5 - 3 8 8 9 F AX ( 7 1 8 ) 5 4 5 - 3 6 0 7 and Commissions
Energy
ALBANY OFFICE: Ethics and Guidance
ARAVELLA SIMOTAS
L e g i s l a t i v e O f f i c e B u i l d i n g , R o o m 6 5 2 , Al b a n y, N Y 1 2 2 4 8 Insurance
Assemblymember 36th District
( 5 1 8 ) 4 5 5 - 5 0 1 4 F AX ( 5 1 8 ) 4 5 5 - 4 0 4 4 Judiciary
Queens County

April 21, 2017

Honorable Janet Di Fiore


Chief Judge of the State of New York
New York State Unified Court System
Office of Court Administration
25 Beaver Street - Room 852
New York, NY 10004

Dear Judge Di Fiore:

I write to express my concern over recent reports of Immigrations and Customs


Enforcement (ICE) agents making arrests in New Yorks courthouses and to strongly urge OCA
to create and implement a policy to limit the presence of ICE agents in courthouses and maintain
access to our justice system for all people.

The use of our courts for federal immigration enforcement clearly undermines our legal
system and endangers public safety. Allowing ICE officers to track and detain immigrants within
our courts makes crime victims and witnesses less likely to come forward and allows dangerous
criminals to go free. There have been reports of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault
who dropped their cases or refused to press charges out of fear of detention and deportation. The
intimidation caused by the presence of ICE in the courts discourages immigrants from seeking
and receiving justice in myriad other ways, such as getting orders of protection, attending
custody hearings, contesting evictions, or suing for unpaid wages. Undocumented immigrants
who receive summonses for violations may also be deterred from appearing and thereby expose
themselves to more serious law enforcement action on bench warrants. The fear of ICE action
also deters immigrants who are U.S. citizens and permanent residents from utilizing our justice
system and exercising their legal rights.

Although New York has laws preventing immigration enforcement actions in certain
locations, including schools and jails, ICE agents are currently allowed unrestricted access to our
court facilities. The Supreme Court Officers Association recently issued a memo prohibiting any
interference with immigration enforcement and ordering all court officers to fully cooperate with
ICE. ICE does not consider courthouses to be sensitive locations that require special approval
before an agent can enter. The agency claims that courts are used as a last resort when they are
pursuing an immigrant with no viable address or place of employment. If this is in fact their
practice, it effectively makes impoverished immigrants the most vulnerable to being targeted.

Continued on page 2
The presence of ICE agents in our courthouses obstructs justice and poses a serious threat
to the safety and well-being of our communities. While the Office of Court Administration has
reported five verified appearances of ICE agents in New York City courts since mid-February,
we cannot know the true extent of the problem because ICE agents often appear in plainclothes
with no badges or identification. Additionally, immigrants have been detained in public areas
outside of the courtroom itself, such as lobbies, hallways and front steps. Given the presidents
executive order which defines anyone in the country illegally as deportable, any
undocumented immigrant who shows up in our courts is at risk of being taken into custody.
Without adequate protections the courts become the perfect trap where immigrants can be easily
hunted and captured by ICE, rather than being a place where justice is served.

All New Yorkers deserve access to justice, regardless of immigration status. It is critical
that our legal system remains open and accessible. We must not allow our inaction to turn
immigrants into a subclass of people to whom justice is denied. I encourage the Office of Court
Administration to find a way to protect undocumented New Yorkers who utilize the court system.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to working with you on this important
and urgent issue.

Sincerely,

Aravella Simotas
New York State Assemblymember
36th District Queens