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SF’s top attorneys call on ICE to stay out of courthouses

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The Hall of Justice. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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San Francisco’s city attorney, district attorney and public defender joined forces Friday to call on immigration officials to refrain from enforcement operations inside courthouses.

In a rare joint statement, the city’s top lawyers lent their support to a letter by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye Thursday expressing concern about reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were detaining people inside courthouses.

The enforcement operations could deter immigrants from testifying in court cases, reporting crimes and showing up for court dates, officials said.

“The work of our courts is critical to ensuring public safety and the efficient administration of justice,” the statement said. “Enforcement policies that drive victims away from the courthouse — whether they be victims of violent crime or of unfair labor practices — undermine the administration of justice. If witnesses are afraid to come to court and testify — for any side in a case — justice is not served and everyone loses.”

In response to Cantil-Sakauye’s letter, ICE officials said they detained people at courthouses as a last resort after exhausting other options, particularly when officers have difficulty tracking wanted subjects who may have multiple aliases and addresses.

They defended the practice, however, blaming it in part on the increased reluctance by local law enforcement to honor ICE detainers. San Francisco is one of many communities in California and nationwide to have “sanctuary city” policies limiting law enforcement cooperation with immigration authorities.

“Now that many law enforcement agencies no longer honor ICE detainers, these individuals, who often have significant criminal histories, are released out into the street, presenting a potential public safety threat,” ICE said in a statement.

Detentions in courthouses are considered safer than other locations because visitors are usually screened for weapons and other contraband, ICE said.

Officers make “every effort” to take subjects into custody in a secure area out of public view, “but this is not always possible,” the statement noted.

A spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office on Friday said local officials were not aware of any ICE operations having taken place in San Francisco courthouses. News reports have suggested they are happening elsewhere in the state.

In San Francisco, city officials have taken a stance against increased immigration enforcement efforts by the current administration, including city funding for immigrant legal defense through nonprofits.

Earlier this month the mayor and Board of Supervisors agreed to release funds for a small immigrant legal defense unit in the Public Defender’s Office as well.

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