WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), with Reps. Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Beto O’Rourke (TX-16) and Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) urged U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting Director Thomas D. Homan to designate courthouses as sensitive locations where immigrants cannot be arrested and detained by ICE.
“An individual’s right to confidential communications with one’s attorney is one of our country’s most vital protections and dates back to the founding of our nation’s legal system,” wrote the members in a letter to Acting Director Homan. “Although this principle is not enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, its common law origins are noted in the Federal Rules of Evidence and is widely recognized by all U.S. federal and state courts.”
“ICE’s presence in courthouses has a broad impact across the population. Even people with legal status may fear contacting the police to report crime out of fear that contact with law enforcement will lead to the apprehension and detention of a loved one,” they continued.“According to a survey by the University of Illinois, 44 percent of Latinos are less likely to contact the police if they have been a victim of crime because they fear that the police will inquire about their immigration status or that of people they know.”
This letter comes after ICE arrested a Washington man following his hearing in a local courthouse in January, citing reliance on information obtained while eavesdropping on a privileged attorney-client conversation. The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed a civil rights complaint against the officers who detained the man, Jorge Acebal-Coria, but arrests like these have become increasingly common across the country. The members urge Acting Director Homan to designate courts as sensitive locations where ICE cannot conduct enforcement actions. They also request information on ICE compliance to constitutional rights, the agency’s accountability measures and the number of recent ICE arrests that have occurred in courthouses across the nation.
The letter is signed by 62 members of Congress: Pramila Jayapal, Jan Schakowsky, Suzanne Bonamici, Beto O’Rourke, Adriano Espaillat, John Lewis, José E. Serrano, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Jerrold Nadler, Luis V. Gutiérrez, Carolyn B. Maloney, Bobby L. Rush, Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Nydia M. Velázquez, Elijah E. Cummings, Earl Blumenauer, Danny K. Davis, Diana DeGette, James P. McGovern, Adam Smith, Gregory W. Meeks, Barbara Lee, Joe Crowley, Grace F. Napolitano, Raúl M. Grijalva, Linda T. Sánchez, Gwen S. Moore, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Yvette D. Clarke, Steve Cohen, Keith Ellison, Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr., Peter Welch, John Yarmuth, André Carson, Jared Polis, Mike Quigley, Judy Chu, Ted Deutch, Bill Foster, David N. Cicilline, Donald M. Payne, Jr., Colleen Hanabusa, Tony Cárdenas, Joaquin Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Mark Takano, Filemon Vela, Donald S. Beyer, Jr., Debbie Dingell, Brenda L. Lawrence, Kathleen M. Rice, Norma Torres, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Nanette Diaz Barragán, Anthony G. Brown, J. Luis Correa, Val Demings, Vicente Gonzalez, Ro Khanna, Jamie Raskin, Darren Soto.
May 31, 2018
Dear Acting Director Homan:
We write to express our concern with ongoing immigration enforcement actions at courthouses across the country and urge you to designate courthouses as sensitive locations. Courthouse enforcement actions deter everyone—victims and witnesses included—from going to court, impeding due process and access to justice, regardless of immigration status.
On April 3, 2018, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project filed a civil rights complaint against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers who detained a man after eavesdropping on a privileged attorney-client conversation at a state courthouse. The complaint describes how Jorge Acebal-Coria went to the Clark County courthouse in Vancouver, Washington on January 24, 2018 to respond to a misdemeanor criminal charge. ICE arrested Mr. Acebal-Coria following his hearing. In the ICE officer’s report, he cited reliance on information obtained while eavesdropping on a privileged conversation between Mr. Acebal-Coria and his attorney, whom he refers to as “court staff.”
An individual’s right to confidential communications with one’s attorney is one of our country’s most vital protections and dates back to the founding of our nation’s legal system. Although this principle is not enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, its common law origins are noted in the Federal Rules of Evidence and is widely recognized by all U.S. federal and state courts.
Further, ICE’s presence in courthouses severely interferes with the fundamental mission of our courts to provide access to justice. Although ICE issued Directive 11072.1: Civil Immigration Enforcement Actions Inside Courthouses earlier this year, we are concerned that this guidance is insufficient to mitigate the risks of deterring people from accessing our courts. Amidst ICE’s increasing presence at courthouses, law enforcement across the country have reported a decrease in crime reporting among immigrants. ICE’s actions directly hurt the ability of state and local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crime, impeding the ability of law enforcement to uphold public safety.
Moreover, ICE’s presence in courthouses has a broad impact across the population. Even people with legal status may fear contacting the police to report crime out of fear that contact with law enforcement will lead to the apprehension and detention of a loved one. Undocumented immigrants are deeply interwoven into our communities: an estimated 16.7 million people across the country live in mixed-status families where at least one family member is undocumented; 5.9 million are U.S. citizen children. According to a survey by the University of Illinois, 44 percent of Latinos are less likely to contact the police if they have been a victim of crime because they fear that the police will inquire about their immigration status or that of people they know.
These developments are deeply disturbing, calling into question ICE’s capacity to ensure its agents adhere to ICE policies on enforcement as well as the quality of training for ICE officers with regard to attorney-client privileges. We request that you provide responses to the following questions:
Again, we strongly urge you to designate courthouses as sensitive locations and to ensure strong oversight and accountability measures of courthouses enforcement actions. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.
 Complaint: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Eavesdropping on Attorney-Client Discussion at State Courthouse (Apr. 3, 2018) available at:https://www.nwirp.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Redacted-CRCL-Complaint.pdf.
 See Federal Rules of Evidence, §501-502.
 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Directive Number 11072.1: Civil Immigration Enforcement Actions Inside Courthouses(Jan. 10, 2018) available at: https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2018/ciEnforcementActionsCourthouses.pdf.
 See, e.g. Carolina Moreno, Houston Police Announce Decrease in Latinos Reporting Rape, Violent Crimes, Huffington Post (Apr. 11, 2017) available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/houston-police-announces-decrease-in-latinos-reporting-rape-violent-crimes_us_58ebd5fae4b0df7e204455f4; James Queally, Fearing Deportation, Many Domestic Violence Victims are Steering Clear of Police and Courts, L.A. Times (Oct. 9, 2017) available at: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-undocumented-crime-reporting-20171009-story.html; Bernice Yeung, Police: Immigration Policies Making it Harder to Catch Criminals, Salon (Feb. 10, 2018) available at: https://www.salon.com/2018/02/10/police-immigration-policies-making-it-harder-to-catch-criminals_partner.
 Silva Mathema, Keeping Families Together, Center for American Progress (Mar. 16, 2017) available at:https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/reports/2017/03/16/428335/keeping-families-together.
 Nik Theodore, Insecure Communities: Latino Perceptions of Police Involvement in Immigration Enforcement, University of Illinois at Chicago (May 2013) available at: https://greatcities.uic.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Insecure_Communities_Report_FINAL.pdf.