NY Governor Signs Law Limiting Arrest of Immigrants in State Court Houses

Hans Pennink/FEMA

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday signed into law a measure that limits the circumstances in which officers from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency can arrest Caribbean and other nationals on immigration violations at state courthouses.

Cuomo said the ‘Protect Our Courts’ Act ensures that immigrants can freely access the justice system without fear of being targeted by US federal immigration authorities.

The legislation addresses longstanding concerns that federal immigration enforcement was deterring immigrants from appearing in New York State courts and impeding the fair administration of justice.

It builds upon a prior executive order by the governor and a directive by the chief judge of the New York State Unified Court System. 

“Unlike this federal government, New York has always protected our immigrant communities,” Cuomo said“This legislation will ensure every New Yorker can have their day in court without fear of being unfairly targeted by ICE or other federal immigration authorities.”

The governor said the legislation will not prohibit an arrest warrant from being authorized by a judge. 

However, he said, an immigration-related courthouse arrest based on an administrative warrant, or without a warrant, would not be permitted. 

This is currently the requirement on state land and in state buildings per Executive Order 170.1, issued in 2018 to protect immigrants who are accessing essential services on state property to do so without fear of arrest.

Senator Brad Hoylman, chair of the New York Senate Judiciary Committee said, “This new law is a powerful rebuke to the outgoing Trump administration and their immigration policies that have undermined our judicial system. 

“After today, New York’s courts will no longer be hunting grounds for federal agents attempting to round-up and initiate deportation proceedings against immigrants,” he said. “The Protect Our Courts Act bars ICE from making warrantless civil arrests of immigrants attending court proceedings and gives New Yorkers the peace of mind that our courthouses remain sanctuaries of justice. 

“I’m grateful to Governor Cuomo for signing this bill into law and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for making immigrant rights a priority issue, as well as Assemblymember Michaelle Solages and the coalition of advocacy organizations that fought for this bill, including the Immigrant Defense Project, Make the Road New York and the New York Immigration Coalition,” Hoylman added. 

He expressed gratitude to Attorney General Letitia James for her “successful legal challenge to ICE’s outrageous courthouse arrest practices.” 

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