On Wednesday, June 10, 2020, a New York judge ruled that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents cannot detain or arrest undocumented immigrants in or around state courthouses, greatly increasing the likelihood that undocumented individuals will feel more comfortable participating in legal proceedings or bringing forth their own cases.
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and New York Attorney General Letitia James filed this case against ICE and the United States Department of Homeland Security in September 2019, arguing that ICE did not have a legal right to conduct immigration raids in or around New York State courthouses, and that this greatly disrupted state court procedures.
Judge Jed Rakoff, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, denied the Trump administration’s motion to dismiss Gonzalez and James’ case in December 2019. Rakoff then ruled on June 10, 2020 to end the Trump administration’s policy that allowed federal ICE agents to interfere with New York State and local court proceedings, according to a press release from James’ office.
ICE raids in the vicinity of New York State courthouses have been increasing in the past three years. According to a 2019 study by the Immigrant Defense Project, ICE operations in and around New York courthouses increased by 1,700 percent between 2016 and 2018. Additionally, ICE officers often went against their own regulations when making arrests. For example, ICE officers must provide basic information about their identity and give an explanation for making an arrest. Many ICE officers noted in this study wore plainclothes without visible ID badges while making arrests in or outside courthouses, and refused to answer questions about why they were taking individuals into custody.
The prevalence of these raids was greatly deterring immigrants from participating in court procedures, which they have a right to do. Gonzalez’s office stated that “…ICE courthouse arrests disrupt court functions, trample the due process rights of the accused, imperil public safety, and deter immigrants from reporting crimes.” Because many immigrants were often too afraid to come to a courthouse, whether to assist in law enforcement or to protect their own rights, many valid criminal and civil cases were abandoned or never pursued, making communities less safe.
Additionally, until this ruling, it is possible that an individual’s immigration status may have been used against him in civil court. For example, insurance companies or defense attorneys may have used calling ICE as a threat to force undocumented plaintiffs to accept a settlement offer that is unfair to them, but that they may now feel forced to accept to protect themselves from arrest. This tactic is completely unethical; everyone, regardless of immigration status, has a right to advocate for themselves in court and receive a fair trial.
With that in mind, Judge Rakoff’s ruling is incredibly important in easing the fears of immigrants who are simply trying to exercise their legal right to participate in court proceedings. This will hopefully encourage undocumented immigrants to report crimes or assist as witnesses in cases, as well as protect their own legal rights in court. Undocumented individuals have the right to file lawsuits and receive justice just like any United States citizen.
Regarding undocumented workers, although there is much debate in the United States about how immigration status should affect employment, it is not a crime to work in America without documentation. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) prohibits employers from knowingly hiring workers who are unauthorized to work in the U.S., but it does not prevent workers from gaining employment based solely on their immigration status. For example, an employer is required to verify an employee’s immigration status before hiring, but if the employer does not, and the employee is undocumented, the employee is not at fault for taking the job and working.
Additionally, under both federal and New York law, undocumented workers’ rights are the same as any worker’s rights. Under federal laws such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, National Labor Relations Act, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, undocumented workers are defined as employees and are not excluded from the right to be paid minimum wage and work free from employer discrimination, for example. And according to the New York State Department of Labor, regardless of immigration status, all workers have a right to make a workers’ compensation claim.
We at Block O’Toole & Murphy hope that this ruling encourages undocumented individuals to exercise their rights and participate in legal proceedings without fear. Whether it is bringing a personal injury lawsuit as a plaintiff, testifying as a witness in another case, or participating in family court–to name just a few examples–all undocumented immigrants have a right to take part in the United States judicial system.
Our personal injury attorneys are proud to fight for the rights of anyone who has been the victim of negligence, regardless of background or immigration status. If you have been injured because of someone else’s negligence, you may be legally entitled to compensation, even if you are undocumented. Call 212-736-5300 or fill out our contact form to speak to a personal injury attorney today.
Se habla español | Мы Говорим по-Русски | Mowimy po Polsku