ICE officers are no longer allowed to enter courthouses without a warrant.

By Naeisha Rose

Last week, the New York State Office of Court Administration (NYS OCA) issued a directive limiting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers from showing up to courthouses unannounced and without a warrant giving Haitian immigrants who are confronting citizenship or other legal woes a third form of protection from deportations. On top of this decree, there were two injunctions that have prevented the elimination of temporary protected status (TPS) for Haiti earlier this year.

Effective April 17, ICE agents must identify themselves when entering a courthouse and state their purpose. They must also wait for Office of Court Administration officers to notify the judge of any law enforcement presence in the courthouse who intends to arrest a litigant, and the agents must have a judicial warrant or order from a federal judge to authorize the arrest, according to NYS OCA.

In addition, no law enforcement action can be taken in a courtroom at all and court officers must file an Unusual Occurrence Report for any law enforcement action taken in a courthouse.

“Our legal system is based on equity and equal accessibility to justice. The NYS OCA directive to bar federal immigration agents from arresting individuals inside state courthouses without a judicial warrant is a positive step forward in the right direction,” said Assemblywoman Michaelle C. Solages (D-NY). “However, we can not stop there. New York State must extend protections to the perimeter of courthouses, where many immigrants are ambushed and harassed by ICE agents. Enacting the Protect Our Courts Act will prohibit ICE from coursing and arresting immigrants outside of our courthouses.”

Since taking office in 2016, the Trump administration has tried to deport individuals under TPS by using their arrest records as grounds for deportation, even for minor crimes. This directive helps to reduce harassment from ICE agents while immigrants sort out their legal troubles at courthouses, according to Solages.

The week prior, another legal measure was passed specifically for preventing Haitian TPS holders in the United States from being deported. A second injunction was filed by Brooklyn Federal Court Judge William F. Kuntz on April 11, according to advocates from a Haitian nonprofit based in Massachusetts.

“There is already one injunction from a Northern California court that prevents the cancellation of TPS holders,” said Brian Concannon, the executive director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH). “This adds another level of protection for Haitians, but perhaps, more importantly, its the first time that a court declared the government distorted the TPS process on racial grounds to reach a predetermined conclusion.”

On March 1, 2019, an earlier injunction was filed in a U.S. District Court in Northern California, according to Legal NewsRoom.

People with TPS are immigrants that were in the U.S. or asylum seekers who were displaced from their countries because of natural disasters, war and political strife, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. To end the legal measure for a country, lawyers for the U.S. would have had to prove that conditions in a nation related to the TPS designation have demonstrably improved.

“It’s a statute, it’s nothing they can simply say we are going to ignore this,” said Steven Forester, the immigration policy coordinator at IJDH. “The fact of the matter is the decision under the law is supposed to be based on the factual conditions in the country, and there is absolutely no question that the extraordinary conditions that existed in Haiti merited an extension.”

On Jan. 12, 2010, Haiti was hit by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed approximately 250,000 Haitians and 10 months later Nepalese United Nations peacekeeping soldiers had spread cholera to the island nation, slowing down its recovery efforts. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm, hit the island and destroyed several crucial cholera treatment centers, according to Oxfam, a humanitarian aid non-profit.

Advocates like Concannon, believe that President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-black rhetoric was proof enough that the termination for TPS for Haitians was race-related and had little to anything to do with conditions “improving” in Haiti.

“Career officials within the Department of Homeland Security were quoted Kuntz’s 145-page decision as recognizing it was a political decision and not an analysis that was required by the law of the conditions that motivated this decision to terminate,” said Forester. “It is very gratifying that a judge has examined and found such extremely clear evidence of unlawful and discriminatory and politically motivated decision making in violation of the requirement of the statute.” 

On Jan. 11, 2018, the day before the 10th anniversary of the earthquake, Trump described the Caribbean island and several African nations under TPS as “shithole” countries on social media and expressed a desire for immigrants from Europe.

“It appears that the judge is willing to make a final order that TPS cancellation for Haitians was unconstitutional,” said Concannon. “The government has agreed not to deport people and their documents are good until January 2020.”

As a result of the first injunction, Kuntz cannot officially declare the cancellation of TPS illegal, because the California injunction prevents the government from canceling the status for Haitians, according to Concannon. A final decision can only be made if the U.S. tried to appeal the injunction.

“His position is that he can’t declare TPS termination illegal because TPS termination is not illegal yet until the California case is finished,” said Concannon. “The judge pretty much said nobody could do anything that will hurt anybody else, which means you can’t deport Haitians.”

The government appealed that order to U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, according to Concannon.

“It will take a couple of years for the appeals court to decide on that,” said Concannon. “Once that happens, whoever loses is undoubtedly going to appeal to the Supreme Court, which is going to take another couple of years.”

Concannon doesn’t expect the California case to come to a conclusion for a minimum of three years.

“Kuntz didn’t say he was going to rule in favor of TPS termination being unconstitutional, but the way his decision was discussed he didn’t have any ambivalence or uncertainty that the government acted improperly, capriciously and on a racial motive that was preordained,” said Concannon. “All the plaintiffs at the trial were really compelling, especially individual plaintiffs on TPS who were on the risk of being deported. They did a wonderful job explaining how Haitian TPS holders are contributing to the United States.”

The court exists as a check on unlawful executive action, said Forester.

“Trump has made no secret of his white supremacist and anti-immigrant motivations,” said Forester. “Trump is not entitled to ignore the statutes. He is supposed to execute them. There was a clear ideologically and discriminatory agenda. It was revealed in this 145-page decision, which roundly condemns the administrations politically motivated actions.”

Naeisha Rose is a multimedia journalist and graduate of the Arts & Culture and Broadcast programs at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has experience working on independent short films, short documentaries, reality television shows, talk and web series as a Casting Associate, 1st AD and Production Assistant. She is a freelance writer with photography, voice over, social media, video production and video editing skills. She has worked as a General Assignment Reporter/Photojournalist for TimesLedger Newspapers, a Book Reviewer for Publishers Weekly and a Freelance Writer for LatinTrends Magazine.

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