LOS ANGELES (CN) - Immigration and Customs Enforcement broke its promise not to arrest people who go to courthouses to pay traffic tickets, the American Civil Liberties Union says.
In a Jan. 10 letter to ACLU Southern California staff attorney Michael Kaufman, the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security assured Kaufman that it would "refrain" from arresting immigrants at Kern County courthouses "except in exigent circumstances."
But ICE honored its promise more in the breach than in the agreement, the ACLU says. It claims ICE agents simply wait until people have left the courthouse to arrest them, rather than arresting them inside.
Father-of-six Rodrigo Arenas Ventura was arrested at his Ventura home just days after he went to the courthouse to pay a traffic ticket, the ACLU claims. He even took a copy of ICE's January letter just in case authorities tried to detain him.
Agents identified Luciano Sandoval after he paid a ticket at the courthouse and detained him two days later, the ACLU says.
"DHS has engaged in the worst kind of dirty play by tricking unsuspecting residents like Mr. Arenas and Mr. Sandoval into believing that the Kern County courthouse is a safe location," Kaufman said when reports emerged of arrests in February. "ICE must immediately put a stop to these deceitful tactics and ensure that all residents
can safely access the courthouse without fear of deportation."
ICE responded to the ACLU after the civil liberties group condemned the agency's "abusive arrests" at the Kern County Courthouse in Bakersfield.
The ACLU says ICE tries to refrain from arresting people in schools, hospitals, churches and other places of worship. It claims that ICE should include courthouses in that list of "sensitive locations."
Using court appearances as de facto bait not only violates the rights of people who seek access to court services, but are a threat to public safety, the ACLU claims.
"The arrests have prevented residents from complying with their obligations to pay citations and appear for court hearings, and from obtaining restraining orders, marriage licenses and other essential court services," Kaufman wrote in an October 2013 letter to ICE. "Moreover, ICE's actions have created a culture of fear, deterring residents from exercising their constitutional right and civic duty to appear for court hearings or seek court services."
Declining to comment on individual cases, ICE Executive Associate Director Thomas Homan made the oft-repeated claim in the agency's letter that it "focuses limited resources on individuals who pose the greatest risk to public safety."
ACLU claims ICE has mounted similar raids in Santa Clara and in courthouses in Wisconsin.