Immigration Agents Stalk Court Houses to Arrest People When They Pay Traffic Tickets or Get Married

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has created a “culture of fear” at courthouses in one California county, where agents have arrested individuals on suspicion of being illegal immigrants as they attempt to pay traffic tickets or get married.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) admonished ICE in a six-page letter demanding the agency cease its targeting courthouses in Kern County, particularly those in or around Bakersfield.

ACLU Southern California staff attorney Michael Kaufman characterized the arrests as “abusive,” and noted that ICE policy requires agents to avoid apprehending people in “sensitive locations,” such as schools, hospitals and churches.

Kaufman insisted courthouses should be added to the list.

“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. “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.”

He added that attending court hearings “is not only a constitutionally protected right, but it is vital to public safety that residents can appear in court, comply with law enforcement citations and court orders, and seek other court services without fear of reprisal from ICE.”

Among those apprehended in the raids—which have also taken place in Santa Clara—was Gurvinder Singh, an Indian national, who had arrived in court to marry his partner, Kuldeet Kaur. He was told he was being arrested due to having entered the U.S. illegally through Mexico, in spite of the fact that he was in the middle of immigration proceedings and had never missed a court appearance.

In another case, Sergio Villatoro was apprehended at the Kern County courthouse in Lamont while paying a parking ticket. Agents reportedly blocked the exits and arrested him, along with five other Latinos also paying tickets, without confirming his identity or immigration status.

–Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

ICE Busting People at Courthouses (by Matt Reynolds, Courthouse News Service)

Arrested for Following the Law (American Civil Liberties Union)

Little-Known Law Requiring Minimum Number of Immigrant Detainees Leads to Massive Spending Increase (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)    

ICE Keeps Secrecy Lid on Detention of Thousands of Immigrants (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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