ALBANY — A top state judge said Tuesday that his agency has urged federal immigration officials to refrain from detaining people in courthouses if they are suspected of being in the country illegally.
Lawrence Marks, chief administrative judge of the state Office of Court Administration, said his agency wants the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Administration to add courthouses to a list of "sensitive locations," such as schools and churches, where agents are barred by federal policy from apprehending undocumented immigrants.
Marks told CNHI that ICE officials have agreed to detain only those immigrants who are in courts because they are facing criminal charges and not to attempt to arrest violators who are there as witnesses or victims.
"The chief judge (Janet DiFiore of the state Court of Appeals) and I have asked them to add courts to the sensitive-location list, but that has not happened," Marks said after appearing before a panel of legislators at a state budget hearing.
"We need victims to come to court, and we need witnesses to come to court," the judge said. "If a significant number of those people are afraid to come to court, that's a problem for us."
The administration of President Donald Trump has directed ICE agents to arrest and initiate deportation proceedings against any undocumented immigrants they encounter.
Trump, during his successful 2016 campaign for the White House, pledged to crack down on illegal immigration and beef up border security.
State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long, a strong supporter of Trump's policies, criticized state court administrators for what he said amounts to interfering with law enforcement.
"They are apparently more comfortable with the criminals in their buildings than they are with immigration agents," Long said. "Maybe all law enforcement should just stay out of the courthouses altogether and let the court bureaucrats deal with the murderers."
The communications manager for ICE's offices in the Northeast Region, Khaalid Walls, did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
The union for the state court officers who provide security in the buildings has stayed on the sidelines in the controversy, arguing its members have to allow the public into the courthouses and can't discriminate against ICE agents.
Marks said progress has been made in the discussions between regional and national ICE officials and the Office of Court Administration, noting the federal agency has agreed to target only criminal defendants in courthouses and to stay clear of courts dealing with child-custody matters, small claims and other civil disputes.
"We're monitoring the situation very carefully," Marks said. "A lot of people — individuals and organizations — have been upset about this. At this point, it has not become overly disruptive to court proceedings."
The Trump administration has been targeting a violent street gang, Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, whose members have been linked to several murders on Long Island. Trump staffers invited the mother of one murder victim to attend his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
Trump stirred controversy last July during a speech to police executives gathered in Brentwood, encouraging officers to be "rough" with gang members, whom he likened to animals for terrorizing neighborhoods.
Long, noting Cuomo has appointed many judges, including DiFiore, suggested the governor look into the court administration's latest policies pertaining to visits by ICE agents.
Marks said his agency's moves were not influenced by the Cuomo administration.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com.