A domestic-violence survivor seeking a protection order. A man attending a hearing for driving without a license. A mother of five in court over a traffic accident. These are some of the hundreds of people immigration officials have detained in or near Washington state courthouses since 2017, according to Attorney General Bob Ferguson. He is trying to put a stop to the practice.
Ferguson filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the Trump administration, he announced at a news conference in Seattle, saying such arrests violate individuals' constitutional right to access courthouses and states' right, as guaranteed by the 10th Amendment, to operate their justice systems without federal interference. It is Ferguson's 53rd lawsuit against the Trump administration, he noted in a news release, and one of many to challenge the president's attempt to crack down on illegal immigration.
Federal officials have said they are increasingly driven to making courthouse arrests by sanctuary policies, like those in Washington, blocking local officials from turning over often-dangerous criminals in their custody.
A FAQ by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), explains it this way: "In years past, most individuals arrested at a courthouse would have been turned over to ICE by local authorities upon their release from a prison or jail based on an ICE detainer. When criminal custody transfers occur inside the secure confines of a jail or prison, it is far safer for everyone involved, including officers and the person being arrested."
Ferguson concedes that some of those arrested at courthouses were facing serious charges, though he said they hadn't necessarily been convicted. But he, as well as King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim, said the arrests have also affected crime victims and witnesses.
"No one is safer when crime victims fear being deported if they call 911, talk to police, or come to the courthouses to testify or get protection," Satterberg said in a statement.
"Specifically," Tunheim wrote in a separate statement, "undocumented domestic violence victims have expressed to their advocates that they no longer feel safe reporting abuse to the authorities for fear of deportation."
"Bottom line," Ferguson said at the news conference, "this allows criminals to go free."
The attorney general plans to submit 40 declarations Wednesday by judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, immigrants and others criticizing the conduct of federal agents and the impact of courthouse arrests.
One man said officers tore his clothing and taunted him during an arrest. Kenneth Chadwick, the man's attorney and a former law-enforcement officer, said he supported Trump's immigration policy, but called the actions by the arresting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers "abusive, if not illegal."
"In my lengthy years in law enforcement, the conduct and procedures displayed by the CBP officers was some of the worst I have encountered," Chadwick wrote.
In an indication of how heated this debate has become, federal prosecutors this year charged a Massachusetts judge and former court official with obstruction of justice for helping an undocumented man sneak out of a courthouse to evade an ICE officer waiting for him.