On February 8, Aboubacar Dembele went to a Bronx courthouse to resolve an assault charge from an altercation he’d had on a city bus last December. This was his first arrest, and his lawyer says Dembele was acting in self-defense. But things didn’t go as the 27-year-old had expected. Directly after leaving the courthouse, Dembele, who is married to an American citizen, was nabbed by a reported eight to 10 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, all dressed in street clothes.
Dembele’s mother had brought him to the United States from the Ivory Coast, without authorization, when he was just three years-old, and he’s lived in the Bronx ever since. He applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) multiple times but was recently rejected. Dembele also has a green-card application pending through his American-citizen wife. He has been convicted of no crime and knows no other country, but that didn’t stop ICE from arresting him.
Dembele’s arrest outside the courthouse so outraged attorneys with the Legal Aid Society and the Bronx Defenders that over 100 lawyers came together to protest against ICE’s tactics that afternoon. In a statement, the Legal Aid Society said, “The presence of ICE officers in our courthouses and the perception that no immigrant is safe to seek their day in court, is threatening to upend our entire legal process and the principles upon which it stands.”
We’ve been witnessing more arrests like Dembele’s for months now, arrests that illustrate an aggressive new deportation strategy on behalf of ICE. Under today’s regime, long-term residents will no longer have the complexity of the lives they’ve built in the United States considered by ICE. Instead, millions now rightly feel like they are a misdemeanor—or a routine brush with the authorities—away from deportation.
That’s what happened to immigration advocate Ravi Ragbir, who was arrested during a scheduled check-in with immigration. In that case, a Federal District Court judge strongly reprimanded the Trump administration, ordering Ragbir’s release and writing that the arrest amounted to “treatment we associate with regimes we revile as unjust.”
Last November, Brooklyn defense lawyers also staged an impromptu demonstration after ICE physically entered the courtroom to arrest Genaro Rojas-Hernandez before his hearing on a misdemeanor domestic abuse charge. In total, the Immigrant Defense Project found that, compared to 2016, ICE courthouse arrests or attempts at arrest increased by nearly 1100 percent in New York State in 2017.
Such arrests are not going away soon. In January ICE issued a four-page directive giving its official blessing to “civil immigration enforcement actions inside courthouses.” In the directive, ICE confirmed that enforcement would “include actions against specific, targeted aliens with criminal convictions, gang members, national security or public safety threats, aliens who have been ordered removed from the United States but have failed to depart, and aliens who have re-entered the country illegally after being removed.” While the directive also says that “family members or friends accompanying the target alien to court appearances” will not be arrested, ICE also reserves the right to change that policy under “special circumstances.”