President Donald Trump‘s promise to “fix” the United States’ immigration “problem” has many undocumented individuals and their families in fear of being captured by agents as they go about their lives. In fact, just last week, organizers of the annual Cinco de Mayo parade in Philadelphia cancelled this year’s event because of rumors that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency would raid the fete.
Trump’s first budget provides more than $4.5 billion in new spending to fight illegal immigration by adding immigration and border enforcement agents, prosecutors and judges, as well as building a wall on the border with Mexico.
In deference to the president’s wishes, ICE seems to be stepping up its enforcement game, purportedly first going after “criminals”—or those caught up in the nation’s notoriously unjust criminal justice system.
And what better place to snatch low hanging fruit than the courts?
The New York Daily News recently chronicled the case of Floyel Stapleton—who is not from Mexico—but the island of Nevis (i.e., he is a Black man.)
In late February, Stapleton appeared in Manhattan Criminal Court for a routine hearing in a misdemeanor assault case, and was met by federal immigration agents as he left the courtroom.
“They were in plain clothes. They had no badges and they arrested me when I was walking out of the courtroom. They just asked my name and they arrested me,” said Stapleton from an immigration detention center in Hudson County. “They are trying to deport me …The situation sucks.”
Stapleton, 39, has previous convictions for drug dealing and domestic violence. He reportedly came to the U.S. when he was 13 and lived in Harlem with his disabled mother and helped pay the rent.
The News reports that Stapleton left behind a 1-year-old girl, as well as a daughter who had to stop attending Howard University because she couldn’t pay tuition, according to Stapleton’s sister.
The Office of Court Administration in New York has confirmed five sightings of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in city courts since mid-February, where they have arrested two men (Stapleton is one of them), inquired about two men and simply shown up to criminal court.
Public defenders say some immigrant clients are now scared to appear in court.
Across the country, the chief justice of the California Supreme called on ICE to stop “stalking undocumented immigrants” in the state’s courthouses.
USA Today reports that Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly saying courthouses “should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws.”
“Enforcement policies that include stalking courthouses and arresting undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom pose no risk to public safety, are neither safe nor fair,” she writes. “They not only compromise our core value of fairness but they undermine the judiciary’s ability to provide equal access to justice. I respectfully request that you refrain from this sort of enforcement in California’s courthouses.”
New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is crafting legislation to ban ICE from city courts, yet an OCE official says that such a ban would be challenging, because the courts can’t pick and choose which law enforcement agencies area allowed in.