Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday signed into law a measure that limits the circumstances in which officers from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency can arrest Caribbean and other nationals on immigration violations at state courthouses.
Cuomo said the Protect Our Courts Act (S00425A/A2176A) ensures that Caribbean and other immigrants can freely access the justice system without fear of being targeted by US federal immigration authorities.
The legislation addresses longstanding concerns that federal immigration enforcement was deterring immigrants from appearing in New York State courts and impeding the fair administration of justice.
It builds upon a prior executive order by the governor and a directive by the chief judge of the New York State Unified Court System.
“Unlike this federal government, New York has always protected our immigrant communities,” Cuomo said. “This legislation will ensure every New Yorker can have their day in court without fear of being unfairly targeted by ICE or other federal immigration authorities.”
The governor said the legislation will not prohibit an arrest warrant from being authorized by a judge.
However, he said, an immigration-related courthouse arrest based on an administrative warrant, or without a warrant, would not be permitted.
This is currently the requirement on state land and in state buildings per Executive Order 170.1, issued in 2018 to protect Caribbean and other immigrants who are accessing essential services on state property to do so without fear of arrest.
Sen. Brad Hoylman, chair of the New York Senate Judiciary Committee said, “This new law is a powerful rebuke to the outgoing Trump administration and their immigration policies that have undermined our judicial system.
“After today, New York’s courts will no longer be hunting grounds for federal agents attempting to round-up and initiate deportation proceedings against immigrants,” he said. “The Protect Our Courts Act bars ICE from making warrantless civil arrests of immigrants attending court proceedings and gives New Yorkers the peace of mind that our courthouses remain sanctuaries of justice.
“I’m grateful to Governor Cuomo for signing this bill into law and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for making immigrant rights a priority issue, as well as Assemblymember Michaelle Solages and the coalition of advocacy organizations that fought for this bill, including the Immigrant Defense Project, Make the Road New York and the New York Immigration Coalition,” Hoylman added.
He expressed gratitude to Attorney General Letitia James for her “successful legal challenge to ICE’s outrageous courthouse arrest practices.”
Solages, the Haitian American chair-elect of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus said: “The individual rights granted to all New Yorkers by the US Constitution should not be dependent upon who holds the office of the presidency.
“There is a real and tangible fear among the immigrant community that the courts are not safe from ICE intervention, often creating a dangerous barrier for justice,” said Solages, a third- term legislator, who was first elected to represent the 22nd Assembly in November of 2012.
That district the Long Island communities of Elmont, North Valley Stream, Valley Stream, South Valley Stream, South Floral Park, Floral Park, the Village of Bellerose, Bellerose Terrace, North Woodmere, Stewart Manor, and sections of Franklin Square.
“The Protect of Courts Act reaffirms our commitment to the principles of justice that our courts were founded on,” Solages added. “All New Yorkers regardless of income, race, religion, or immigration status should have the opportunity to use the court system to advocate for themselves and their interests.
“This bill would not have crossed the finish line without my partner, Sen. Hoylman, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the immense efforts of all of the advocacy organizations that make up the Justice Roadmap Coalition, specifically the Immigrant Defense Project and the New York Immigration Coalition,” she continued. “This victory is for every person seeking justice in a New York court of law.”
The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), an umbrella organization of immigrant advocacy groups in New York, welcomed Cuomo’s signature.
NYIC said it had “championed the legislation” arguing that the measure would address “longstanding concerns that federal immigration enforcement was deterring immigrants from appearing in New York State courts and impeding the fair administration of justice.”
“During the last few years, not even New York’s courthouses were free from ICE’s terror campaign against immigrant communities. But, here in the Empire State (New York), we don’t tolerate bullies,” Murad Awawdeh, NYIC’s interim co-executive director, told Caribbean Life.
“Working with our partners in the ICE Out Of Courts Coalition, NYIC fought for all New Yorkers to be able to exercise their right to due process freely, safely and without fear,” he added. “We thank Assemblymember Solages and Sen. Hoylman for championing this vital piece of legislation and Governor Cuomo for signing it into law. The bill sends a clear message that ICE’s intimidation is not welcome in New York.”