Editorial: Arresting immigrants at schools, hospitals and courthouses isn’t just cold-hearted, it’s counterproductive

Immigrant rights supporters
Immigration rights supporters circle the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in New York on March 9.
(Seth Wenig / Associated Press)

A woman in El Paso showed up at a courthouse last month seeking protection from an abusive spouse. Instead, she was arrested by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and slated for deportation. In a Pasadena courthouse, a defendant was snatched from his attorney’s side and whisked away for deportation.

President Trump’s supporters may cheer on the ICE agents in these cases — after all, he won the White House in part by promising to crack down on illegal immigration. But as the government itself has recognized, it is both heartless and counterproductive to arrest people on immigration violations as they engage with the fundamentals of civic life: taking children to school (remember: children here illegally are entitled to attend public schools under the Supreme Court’s 1982 Plyler v. Doe ruling) or going to church or seeking treatment at a hospital. Under the Obama administration, ICE adopted a formal policy of avoiding arrests in such “sensitive locations.”

Courthouses, however, were wrongly excluded from the list of sensitive locations. On Thursday, the chief justice of the California Supreme Court, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, asked the government to keep ICE agents away from courthouses, which, she said, “should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws.” The ACLU, noting countless cases around the country in which ICE has interrogated and arrested people as they sought to pay for traffic citations, appear for court hearings as witnesses, get married or obtain restraining orders in domestic violence cases, said the practice “obstructs the ability of immigrants to access the courts” and “endangers public safety.”

Trump’s approach to illegal immigration is both short-sighted and cold-hearted, and now threatens to drive those here illegally deeper into the shadows.

For a while, ICE had scaled back the practice because of opposition from judicial officials. But it revived courthouse arrests after local jurisdictions began refusing to honor “detainer” requests to hold prisoners beyond the end of their sentences until ICE could arrive to pick them up. But the local governments had no choice: A federal judge had ruled those extended detentions unconstitutional.

Under Trump, ICE says it has not changed the “sensitive places” policy, but agents appear to be pushing the limits. Two weeks ago, a father was arrested between stops as he was dropping his daughters off at two Lincoln Heights schools, an arrest one of the daughters recorded. In Virginia, two men were arrested in February after leaving a church-based homeless shelter. Those arrests might not have violated the letter of the “sensitive places” policy, because they weren’t carried out on the grounds of the churches and schools themselves, but they certainly defy its spirit.

The Trump administration’s approach to illegal immigration is both short-sighted and cold-hearted, and now threatens to drive those here illegally deeper into the shadows, making the work of local law enforcement even more difficult. While it is reasonable for ICE to seek to deport people who commit serious crimes, it makes little sense to target all 11 million people living in the country illegally or to go after them when they are engaging in behavior that ought to encouraged, such as taking their children to school.


At some point, reason, which voters tossed out the window during the election, must be restored. Contrary to what people like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) might think with his xenophobic view that “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” immigration is the nation’s past, present and future. It needs to be controlled, orderly and reliable, to be sure, but so far we’ve seen nothing from Trump or current Congressional Republican leaders on how to reform the current, flawed system.

Immigrants in the country illegally who have lived here for years, established roots, started families and become crucial to the economy should not have to worry now about being chased down as they drop off a child at school, make a visit to the emergency room — or when they go to court to pay a traffic ticket. ICE’s enforcement tactics shouldn’t destabilize communities, but that’s just where the Trump administration is taking us.

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