San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón has a message for the Trump administration: If immigration enforcement wants to make arrests in his city, which is a sanctuary city, they need to get a warrant first.
The president and his cabinet officials have been extremely critical of sanctuary cities, or places where law enforcement limits its interactions with immigration enforcement. This week, Sessions announced he would block or withhold law enforcement grant funding to states and localities that do not communicate with federal officials when they have undocumented immigrants in custody. But a letter Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly sent to the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court chastising the state’s sanctuary policies prompted Gascón to respond.
“Frankly the only thing that ICE needs to do if they want to get cooperation from sanctuary cities like San Francisco, for instance, is get a warrant and we’d be more than happy to give them access to people in our custody,”Gascón told TIME. “It’s the very minimum due process protection.”
Gascón criticized federal officials’ practices when carrying out immigration enforcement orders around California, which have recently included making arrests inside of courthouses. On March 16, Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye sent the Attorney General and the DHS Secretary a letter expressing concern about reports that ICE agents had been making arrests in courthouses.
“Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws,” her letter read. “I respectfully request that you refrain from this sort of enforcement in California’s courthouses.”
On March 29, the Attorney General and the DHS Secretary responded to her letter saying they disagreed with her characterization of ICE’s activities (the Justice said they had been “stalking” people) and said ICE wouldn’t have to arrest people in public places if cities like San Francisco, which is a sanctuary city, did not have policies that are “designed to specifically prohibit or hinder ICE from enforcing immigration law.” Politico first reported news of the letter. The Trump administration has been extremely critical of sanctuary cities. Earlier this week, Attorney General Sessions
“Such policies threaten public safety, rather than enhance it,” the letter reads. “As a result, ICE officers and agents are required to locate and arrest these aliens in public places.” They go on to say they’re particularly fond of courthouse arrests because individuals have already been screened for weapons, lowering the chance that someone will get hurt.
Gascón does not agree. As a former police chief, he says law enforcement has plenty of opportunities to identify and locate people they’re seeking to arrest.“I don’t believe picking them up in a courthouse, especially a witness or a victim makes a lot of sense,” he says. “Having ICE agents coming into our courthouses is very disruptive and we know that’s it’s already having an impact on victims and witnesses who are fearful of coming into our courtrooms. I consider it to be extremely backwards and disrespectful.”
Immigration enforcement has a policy against making arrests in certain locations deemed “sensitive,” including schools and churches, but courthouses do not make the cut. Arrests in courthouses are not new. In fact, the American Civil Liberties Union of California complained about arrests of people while dropping by courts to pay parking tickets and get married in 2013.
But in the wake President Trump’s executive orders on immigration, there is new attention on the tactic. Since late January, there have been reports of arrests at courthouses across the country including in Los Angeles County and El Paso. ICE reportedly arrested a woman who was attempting to get a restraining order against her abusive husband. Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson told Slate recently that four of her clients, all of whom were victims of domestic violence, have dropped their cases out of fear that they’d be identified and deported by ICE during the trials.
The Los Angeles County arrest prompted the California Chief Justice to weigh in on the issue. The Los Angeles Times reports ICE identified the arrestee as a Mexican national with a prior drug conviction.
District Attorney Gascón makes clear that he wants federal law enforcement officials to be able to do their job and would not want there to be a “law enforcement standoff” if an arrest were to occur in a courthouse. Gascón also says while there are some distinctions for those who are perpetrators of crime. “But still the courthouses should be free from this kind of activity,” he says.