Is the fact that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) authorities have taken to prowling around courthouses (or in them) in search of potential undocumented immigrants keeping people from seeking justice? Senator Lisa Wellman and other advocates think so — and a bill is now being considered that will stop federal immigration agents from making arrests within a mile of any Washington courthouse.
The goal isn’t to stop ICE and Border Patrol agents from doing the jobs. Instead, the goal is to ensure that everyone in this country has equal access to the courts. Without that, it’s impossible for some people to testify in court, seek protection orders, obey a summons, fight criminal charges or even just pay a traffic ticket without fear of being arrested.
Courthouse arrests by plainclothes ICE agents have become so problematic that state Attorney General Bob Ferguson has even filed a lawsuit over the issue. Former Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst even twice asked ICE to treat courthouses as sensitive locations over the years, going as far back as 2017. Just the same, advocates for the state’s immigrants say that courthouse arrests continue.
It’s important to remember that many people who get dragged into the justice system are actually innocent. Some may be the victims of crimes. Others may be falsely accused. Many may be potential witnesses who are needed to testify in criminal cases. Washington wouldn’t be the first to ban warrantless arrests in and around courthouses, as states around the nation grapple with the issue.
Stand up for your rights after being charged with theft, drunk driving or something similar with the help of an experienced legal advocate. The judicial system doesn’t make it easy to protect yourself, but an attorney can help.
Jeniece LaCross, Attorney At Law