As the White House steamrolls over immigrants’ rights and cranks up its deportation machine, migrant communities everywhere are seeking sanctuary and developing new methods of mutual protection—through the law, in their churches and schools, and among their neighbors. From the establishment of “sanctuary campuses” at public universities, to the expansion of sanctuary policies for municipalities that refuse to cooperate willingly with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigations, community safeguards are emerging in a volatile political landscape.
Still, while cities have attempted to craft protective policies to prevent or at least minimize ICE interference, federal agents are consistently exploiting loopholes in the ad hoc safety net that has developed in targeted communities. In New York, despite local officials’ declarations that the city would resist the Trump administration’s crackdown, ICE raids are still happening. A new battlefront is emerging in local courthouses, where ICE—unleashed from Obama-era guidelines on “sensitive areas” for raids and arrests—has waged some of the country’s fiercest frontal assaults on immigrant rights.
The advocacy group Immigrant Defense Project (IDP), which provides civil legal aid to immigrants, has condemned the practice, which, according to their surveys, has led to a stunning 1,200 percent rise in arrests and attempted arrests by ICE from 2016 to 2017 at local courts around the state. Across New York, ICE agents have reportedly cracked down on more than 150 people as they exercised their rights to justice (with more recent arrest figures still pending).
IDP Supervising Attorney Andrew Wachtenheim reports, “Many of these individuals have already been deported, some very quickly.” For example, “a longtime lawful permanent resident” was “disappeared from court when he appeared on a non-criminal charge for trespassing in a building.” He was deported quickly despite being diagnosed as “not competent” to stand trial because of psychological and cognitive problems, “learning disabilities, physical illness, and a history of trauma.”
According to IDP’s surveys of 225 legal professionals in New York State, three-quarters of respondents said they had observed a “chilling effect” on their clients due to fear of ICE intervention whenever they attend court. One IDP report described a court scene in which an immigrant undergoing legal proceedings broke down when told that ICE was present, prompting a nearby woman to say “she would tell her friend to not come to court because they would be deported.” Around the country, social-service providers are observing a decline in domestic-violence victims coming forward for fear of being arrested on immigration charges.