Trump officials defend immigration arrests in California courts

© Reuters. United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks with law enforcement officers at the Thomas Eagleton United States Courthouse in St. Louis

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Federal agents have arrested illegal immigrants in California courthouses because local authorities have made such jail arrests more difficult, the Trump administration’s two top law enforcement officials told the Chief Justice. of the state, who had requested the cessation of the practice.

In a letter to Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, released Friday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly gave no indication that agents would stop the arrests.

Sessions and Kelly criticized California officials for limiting state and local law enforcement cooperation with US agents, preventing them from going to jail to pick up illegal immigrants arrested for other crimes.

“As a result, ICE officers and agents must locate and arrest these aliens in public places, rather than in secure prison facilities,” Sessions and Kelly wrote in the letter dated Wednesday, using the acronym for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Kelly, whose Department of Homeland Security includes ICE, and Sessions, who heads the Justice Department as attorney general, are members of Republican President Donald Trump’s cabinet.

Since taking office in January, Trump has expanded the network for illegal immigrants to be detained and removed from the country, in accordance with his campaign promise in the White House.

Immigrant rights groups say federal agents have been to court more frequently this year, including in California, Massachusetts, Maryland and Texas.

California law enforcement officials, including in Los Angeles and San Francisco, are rejecting requests from ICE agents to hold illegal immigrants after their release dates in local jails so they can be transferred to federal custody. The stance of these law enforcement officials follows the advice of the state’s two most recent attorneys general.

These and other “sanctuary” jurisdictions that choose not to cooperate with federal immigration agents have received criticism from conservative Republicans. On Monday, Sessions threatened to withhold millions of dollars in US funds for cities that do not help immigration authorities.

In their letter, Kelly and Sessions said officers make arrests in courthouses rather than other public places, in part because visitors are screened for weapons before entering as they are in jails.

They were responding to a letter sent two weeks ago by Cantil-Sakauye, who asked the two cabinet officials to stop immigration agents from arresting undocumented immigrants inside California courthouses.

“The courts should not be used as bait in the necessary application of our country’s immigration law,” he wrote.

The presence of immigration agents in the courts of the most populous state in the country could undermine public confidence in its judicial system, he said.

His letter went on to say that immigration agents were “stalking undocumented immigrants” in courthouses, language that drew a harsh reprimand from Sessions and Kelly.

They said the use of the word “stalking” suggested criminal conduct. They said it was not justified because the agents have full authority to arrest illegal immigrants.

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