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Trump administration admonishes California chief justice over claim that agents are 'stalking' immigrants

U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

The Trump administration on Friday fired back at California's top judge, disputing her characterization this month that federal immigration agents were "stalking" courthouses to make arrests. 

In a letter to Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye,  leaders of Trump's Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security objected to her  description of federal agents' conduct.

"As the chief judicial officer of the state of California, your characterization of federal law enforcement is particularly troubling," wrote Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, objecting to Cantil-Sakauye's use of the word "stalking." 

They said agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were using courthouses to arrest immigrants in the U.S. illegally, in part, because California and some of its local jurisdictions prohibit their officials from cooperating with federal agencies in detaining such immigrants under most conditions. 

 Sessions and Kelly told California's top judge that she should consider taking her concerns to Gov. Jerry Brown and the cities and counties that limit local law enforcement's involvement with immigration agents. 

Cantil-Sakauye, a former prosecutor who rose through the judicial ranks as an appointee of Republican governors,  said through a spokesman that she appreciated the Trump administration's  "admission that they are in state courthouses making federal arrests."

"Making arrests at courthouses, in my view, undermines public safety because victims and witnesses will fear coming to courthouses to help enforce the law," she said Friday.  

She expressed disappointment that courthouses, given local and state public safety concerns, were not listed as sensitive areas offlimits to agents. Federal policy lists schools, churches and hospitals as "sensitive areas."

 The letter from the Justice Department officials defended the arrests of immigrants at courthouses.

By apprehending suspects after they have passed through security screening at courthouses, federal agents are less likely to encounter anyone who is armed, the letter said.

"The arrest of individuals by ICE officers and agents is predicated on investigation and targeting of specific persons who have been identified by ICE and other law enforcement agencies as subject to arrest,"  they wrote.

Cantil-Sakauye had asked the Trump administration on March 16 to stop immigration agents from seeking immigrants at the state's courthouses. 

“Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws,” she wrote in a letter to Sessions and 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.

Sessions and Kelly urged Cantil-Sakauye to speak to Brown and other officials "who have enacted policies that occasionally necessitate ICE officers and agents to make arrests at courthouses and other public places."

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