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Courthouse immigrant arrested despite judge’s opposition

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) — U.S. immigration agents continue to arrest immigrants in New Jersey courthouses despite a high-ranking judge’s request that they stop.

New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner asked the Homeland Security Department last month to add courthouses to a list of “sensitive locations” immigration enforcement agents avoid. Otherwise, Rabner said, immigrants due in court but afraid of deportation won’t show up, posing a public safety risk.

Middlesex County Sheriff Mildred Scott told WNYC radio (http://bit.ly/2qLTZZr ) federal immigration enforcement agents arrested an immigrant in a courthouse last week. The person was in the U.S. without legal documentation.

Middlesex County officers assisted in the arrest, which violated county policy. Scott said she cannot block federal agents from making arrests in the courthouse.

“I’ve got to follow the guidelines,” she said.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman wouldn’t say what led to the arrest, but said courthouse arrests happen when the agency exhausts all other options. He said arrests at the courthouse are safer because people already are screened for weapons.

Rabner made the request in response to two earlier arrests by immigration agents in New Jersey courts. In one arrest, an immigrant who was the victim of a crime ended up in handcuffs.

The crime victim’s girlfriend yelled at his attorney, Lauren Bayer, after the arrest. “She kept screaming: ‘Why did you let this happen? Why didn’t you tell us?” Bayer said.

Bayer said the presence of immigration agents in the courtroom “erodes the relationship that we have with our clients.”

Immigration agents did not have a judicial warrant required by county policy to arrest the crime victim, said immigration attorney Norka Schell. He posted bail and is now released, pending a future court date. He will not call police if he is the victim of another crime, Schell said.

Rabner declined to comment on federal officials ignoring his request.

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