Three plainclothes agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement entered Brooklyn Criminal Court on Thursday morning, "lurked," and made multiple arrests outside, according to attorneys with Brooklyn Defender Services [BDS], a public defender organization.
Four men were arrested, ICE spokeswoman Rachael Yong Yow confirmed. They were scheduled to appear on misdemeanor trespass charges Thursday, stemming from an incident in late July. The group allegedly trespassed on a roof in Sunset Park on July 29th, according to court records. One man was charged with misdemeanor weapon possession when police recovered a switchblade from his backpack.
Yong Yow added that three of the four men are confirmed members of the Niños Malos gang. One is described as an associate.
Three agents were present on the eighth floor of 120 Schermerhorn Street in Downtown Brooklyn, which is a misdemeanor court, according to Jared Chausow, an advocacy specialist with Brooklyn Defender Services who was inside the courthouse Thursday.
ICE agents are allowed to enter courthouses to arrest non-citizens, and have been doing so at a higher rate in 2017 than years past.
The Brooklyn DA's office said that the office had not been informed of the action and did not cooperate with the officers.
ICE OFFICERS IN COURT HALLWAY OF 120 SCHERMERHORN. MISDEMEANOR COURT IN BROOKLYN. CAREFUL pic.twitter.com/C556BXPhHc
— Scott Hechinger (@ScottHech) September 14, 2017
Chausow, of BDS, told Gothamist his agency was not familiar with the arrestees, who were apparently detained on their way into the courthouse.
The ICE agents left the courthouse shortly before noon, according to BDS.
"I think they were scared away" by the media presence, Chausow said. "We very much want reporters to come and bear witness to this injustice and make real for readers and viewers what we and our allies in the immigrant justice community have been saying for months."
Alleged ICE agent at Brooklyn court house refused to answer questions. Leaves black car with two others. pic.twitter.com/Rqjl6ldyPQ
— Andrew Joyce (@AndrewPaulJoyce) September 14, 2017
While the NYPD's sanctuary city policy limits cooperation with ICE, the federal agency can appear unannounced in city courts, where vulnerable clients' names are clearly posted.
There were 19 ICE arrests and nine attempted arrests in NYC courthouses between January 1st and July 1st this year, according to the Legal Aid Society. (A failed arrest attempt sometimes occurs when a defense attorney preemptively steers a client out of the courthouse before officers can effect an arrest.) For comparison, there were eight courthouse arrests in all of 2016, and 11 in all of 2015.
The State Office of Court Administration recently confirmed guidelines ICE officers must follow if they enter a state court to make an arrest.
For example, ICE agents must identify themselves to a court agent when they enter a courthouse, and that agent must inform the appropriate judge if an arrest is planned.
ICE agents possessing a judge's arrest warrant don't have to adhere to these rules. In the case of a judicial warrant, ICE might be seeking someone who is actively evading a felony arrest.
Asked if protocols were followed Thursday, OCA spokesman Lucian Chalfen supplied a copy of said protocols and said, "I am told the arrests took place outside of the courthouse."
ALERT: Plainclothes ICE made an arrest outside Kings Co. Criminal (*misdemeanor*) Court. Overheard: "We are looking for 2 more." pic.twitter.com/rmYNBse4J8
— Brooklyn Defender (@BklynDefender) September 14, 2017
"How do you know [these OCA guidelines] are not strong enough? Because since April the main ratcheting up of ICE in courthouses has happened," Tina Luongo, head of the criminal practice at the Legal Aid Society, told Gothamist this summer. "They are pretty much useless. Here's the reality: ICE is ignoring [the rules]... and the language is not strong enough to direct court staff."
Immigrants are fearful, attorneys say, and are thinking twice about attending mandatory appearances, or seeking child support or a restraining order. A recent Immigrant Defense Project study found that 74 percent of advocates and attorneys surveyed in July had clients who've reported "fear of the courts because of ICE." Forty-eight percent had clients who have failed to seek custody, and 37 percent had clients who have failed to seek an order of protection.
Advocates have called for stronger guidelines—that ICE agents be required to inform attorneys of their presence, and that any ICE agent without a judicial warrant be banned from the courts entirely. Lawyers also testified at a recent City Council hearing that they've witnessed court officers and ICE agents working together.
"All immigrant New Yorkers can be made afraid to pursue justice because of these actions," Chausow said of the Thursday arrests. "Not just the individuals who were arrested today."
Additional reporting by Noah Hurowitz.
This story has been updated with a statement and arrest details from ICE.