California Chief Justice Slams 'Stalking' of Undocumented Immigrants at Courts

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye addresses a hearing in San Francisco in January 2012. (AP Photo (pool)/Paul Sakuma)

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye says she is “deeply concerned” at reports that federal immigration agents are, in her words, “stalking undocumented immigrants” and arresting them at trial courts in the state.

The chief justice said courts should not be used as “bait” in the enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws, adding that courthouses are full of vulnerable people seeking justice.

"Our courts are the main point of contact for millions of the most vulnerable Californians in times of anxiety, stress, and crises in their lives," Cantil-Sakauye wrote on Thursday.

"Crime victims, victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, witnesses to crimes who are aiding law enforcement, limited-English speakers, unrepresented litigants, and children and families all come to our courts seeking justice and due process of law."


Cantil-Sakauye added that most undocumented immigrants pose no risk to public safety. She noted that while enforcement of the nation's immigration laws is necessary, "enforcement policies that include stalking courthouses and arresting undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom pose no risk to public safety, are neither safe nor fair."

She asked that federal agencies "refrain from this sort of enforcement in California's courthouses."

When asked what prompted the letter, Supreme Court spokesman Cathal Conneely said there was an incident at the Pasadena Courthouse and that "judicial officers throughout the state have been expressing concerns to (the Chief) about what they are experiencing in local courtrooms and courthouses."

Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), acknowledged that agents do sometimes track down wanted immigrants at courthouses, but only as a last resort.

"While ICE does arrest targets at courthouses, generally it’s only after investigating officers have exhausted other options," Kice said.

In a reference to state and local laws limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities, Kice said "many law enforcement agencies no longer honor ICE detainers, (so) these individuals, who often have significant criminal histories, are released onto the street, presenting a potential public safety threat."

Kice also noted that ICE prioritizes safety of its agents and others, and that courthouses are relatively safe places to apprehend wanted immigrants since they've already gone through metal detectors and other security measures.