California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye asked the Trump administration on Thursday to stop immigration agents from "stalking" California's courthouses to make arrests.
"Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country's immigration laws," she wrote in a letter to Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly.
Her letter did not say which courthouses had been the location of such "stalking," but judges and lawyers in Southern California have complained of seeing immigration agents posted near courts.
She said she feared the practice would erode public trust in the state courts.
"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," wrote Cantil-Sakauye, who was appointed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and is considered one of the more conservative justices on the state's high court.
"They not only compromise our core value of fairness but they undermine the judiciary's ability to provide equal access to justice.
"I respectfully request that you refrain from this sort of enforcement in California's courthouses."
The chief justice's letter, prompted by complaints from trial judges, follows a report in The Times about teams of immigration agents — some in uniform, some not — sweeping into courtrooms or lurking outside court complexes in California, Arizona, Texas and Colorado in recent weeks.
Immigration officials say they make arrests in courthouses only when all other options have been exhausted.
In her letter, Cantil-Sakauye called the courts "the main point of contact for millions of the most vulnerable Californians in times of anxiety, stress, and crises in their lives."
"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," she wrote.
Judges "strive to mitigate fear" and assure litigants and others that they will be treated fairly.
Cantil-Sakauye also stressed that the three branches of government have distinct obligations, and separation of powers rules ensure "the harmonious existence of the rule of law."
10:55 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details from the chief justice's letter.