SF Officials Slam ICE for Arresting Man Outside Courthouse

The San Francisco resident was on his way to a court hearing at the San Francisco Hall of Justice when he was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents — the first such arrest in the city, according to the public defender’s office. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

An undocumented man was detained by federal immigration authorities this week in front of the San Francisco Hall of Justice, where the criminal courts are located. The arrest was strongly condemned by the city’s public defender and district attorney, who say courthouses should be off limits to immigration enforcement.

The San Francisco resident was on his way to a court hearing at 850 Bryant St. when he was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents — the first such arrest in the city, said the Public Defender’s Office.

“This undermines community trust and public safety,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju. “It does deter people from coming to court.”

Last month, ICE agents also detained two men at the Sonoma County Superior Court.

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The courthouse arrests come as the Trump administration has renewed efforts to counter sanctuary jurisdictions, arguing they interfere with federal immigration enforcement.

This week, President Trump said the federal government will begin withholding grants from sanctuary cities and states, after an appeals court in Manhattan ruled they have the authority to do so. U.S. Attorney General William Barr said last month that public areas of courthouses must be accessible to federal law enforcement officers.

A California law that took effect this year, Assembly Bill 668, which prohibits civil arrests in courthouses without a judicial warrant, which the agents did not have.

“California law explicitly forbids a civil enforcement agency like ICE from making a civil arrest without warrant outside of a courthouse,” Raju said.

But the Trump administration argues that immigration agents have the authority to make courthouse arrests without judicial warrants. While ICE generally avoids immigration enforcement at “sensitive locations” such as schools, churches and hospitals, it does not treat courthouses that way.

The undocumented Mexican national who was detained in San Francisco on Tuesday had three felony convictions for second-degree burglary from 2016, 2017 and 2019, according to ICE. The agency identified him as 43-year-old Alberto Uc Ponce.

The agency said it arrested him near the courthouse because local law enforcement had refused to turn him over to ICE several times. The agency said local jurisdictions that don’t cooperate with ICE are likely to see an increase of arrests in the community, as agents are less able to detain immigrants at jails.

David Jennings, field office director for ICE in San Francisco, blamed sanctuary policies.

“Criminals like this individual are released to reoffend again and again,” said Jennings in a statement. “A simple phone call to ICE to arrange the secure transfer of such individuals would serve the hard-working residents of the city far more than a misguided sanctuary policy that, as proven here and numerous times in the past, goes to great lengths to protect criminals under the guise of protecting the citizenry.”

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California’s sanctuary law, Senate Bill 54, prohibits local police, sheriffs and jail officials from handing over immigrants to ICE, unless they have been convicted of serious felonies or other crimes, including burglary.

The man’s attorney at the Public Defender’s Office, Emilou MacLean, declined to comment on her client’s criminal history, or whether he was protected by SB 54.

“This is a question of the illegitimacy and the illegality of courthouse arrests — where ICE is essentially stationing itself at the courthouse and ambushing someone who shows up for a court hearing,” said MacLean in an email.

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin also called for ICE to stop making arrests at courthouses.

“ICE actions in or near our courthouses deters people from accessing our justice system, making us all less safe,” Boudin said.

But Jennings, the ICE field office director, said federal immigration agents are not bound by California's law against courthouse arrests.

“California Assembly Bill 668 cannot and will not govern the conduct of federal officers acting pursuant to duly-enacted laws passed by Congress that provide the authority to make administrative arrests of removable aliens inside the United States,” he said.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, who authored AB 668, said President Trump’s “aggressive immigration policies are making all of our communities less safe.”

“When people don’t feel safe showing up to court to act as a witness, pay a fine or file papers — the system is broken,” she said.