SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – In a letter to the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, the heads of the Justice Department and Homeland Security have fired back at her criticism of federal immigration agents for making arrests inside California courthouses.
Signed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, the letter said it was “particularly troubling” that Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye characterized the actions of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents as “stalking undocumented immigrants” at courthouses to make arrests.
“As the chief judicial officer of the state of California, your characterization of federal law enforcement officers is particularly troubling,” the letter said – dated March 29th and obtained by CBS News.
“As you are aware, stalking has a specific legal meaning in American law, which describes criminal activity involving repetitive following or harassment of the victim with the intent to produce fear of harm. The arrest of persons in a public place based upon probable cause has long been held by the United States Supreme Court as constitutionally permissible,” the letter said.
In her own letter last week to Sessions and Kelly, Cantil-Sakauye criticized immigration agents for targeting the state’s courthouses.
“I am deeply concerned about reports from some of our trial courts that immigration agents appear to be stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests,” she wrote. “Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws.”
“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,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote. “They not only compromise our core value of fairness but they undermine the judiciary’s ability to provide equal access to justice.”
Sessions and Kelly responded that ICE agents do not “engage in ‘sweeps’ or other indiscriminate arrest practices.”
The letter claimed ICE agents are required to use public places to make arrests because of the sanctuary city policies of San Francisco and other California cities.
“Some jurisdictions, including the State of California and many of its largest counties and cities, have enacted statutes and ordinances designed to specifically prohibit or hinder ICE from enforcing immigration law by prohibiting communication with ICE and denying requests by ICE officers and agents to enter prisons and jails to make arrests,” Sessions wrote.
The letter said courthouse arrests ensured the safety of ICE agents. “Because courthouse visitors are typically screened upon entry to search for weapons and other contraband, safety risks for the arresting officers and persons being arrested are substantially decreased.”
A spokesperson for Cantil-Sakauye was unavailable Friday for a comment on the letter.
Cantil-Sakauye isn’t alone in her criticism of the ICE agents actions. San Francisco’s city attorney, district attorney and public defender have also called for the end of the courthouse arrests.
In a rare joint statement, the city’s top lawyers lent their support of Cantil-Sakauye’s letter to the attorney general and Homeland Security chief.
The enforcement operations could deter immigrants from testifying in court cases, reporting crimes and showing up for court dates, officials said.
“The work of our courts is critical to ensuring public safety and the efficient administration of justice,” the statement said. “Enforcement policies that drive victims away from the courthouse — whether they be victims of violent crime or of unfair labor practices — undermine the administration of justice. If witnesses are afraid to come to court and testify — for any side in a case — justice is not served and everyone loses.”
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