ICE agents arrest 3 at Sonoma County courthouse
Federal immigration agents arrested at least three people Tuesday at the Sonoma County Superior Court campus, preventing them from appearing before judges for pending criminal matters and prompting unified outcry from criminal justice and court officials who condemned the action as undermining due process and local authority.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents made the arrests in defiance of a new state law barring civil immigration arrests at California courthouses, a statute that does not strip federal agents of their authority to conduct missions but makes clear the state’s intent. The action also comes four days after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials announced the agency will participate in ICE’s escalating immigration enforcement across the country in jurisdictions with sanctuary policies, and called out cities including San Francisco.
Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch and Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi condemned the arrests for undermining public safety and the fragile yet crucial trust between immigrants and local authorities. County counsel Bruce Goldstein called ICE’s actions “lawless” because the agents had no judicial warrants, in violation of state law.
“It’s now going to put total fear in the community,” Pozzi said in an interview. “People aren’t going to come to court. Victims will refuse to show up. Witnesses will refuse to show up … cases will have to get dismissed.”
Pozzi, who worked with staff from U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson’s office to get the names of individuals who were detained, said she wasn’t able to make them public because of attorney-client privilege rules barring release of information without a client’s permission.
Thompson, D-St. Helena, said the courthouse arrests run the risk of eroding trust between public safety officials and immigrants.
“If the immigrant community feels less safe and afraid, they are less willing to communicate and witnesses less likely to come forward. That puts all of us at risk.”
“The arrest and detention actions of ICE at courthouses like ours interrupts the judicial process and undermines equal access to justice,” Presiding Judge Bradford DeMeo said.
ICE spokesman Jonathan Moor on Tuesday declined to provide details about the law enforcement actions taken at the Sonoma County courthouse, saying the agency could only provide information about specific people when requested by name and other identifying information.
ICE officials called local laws prohibiting immigration arrests at courthouses “ironic” in a written response to The Press Democrat’s questions. The response, which quoted agency officials and was provided by Moor, emphasized Congress’ mission for the agency, keeping “criminal aliens out of our country.”
“Despite attempts to prevent ICE officers from doing their jobs, ICE will continue to carry out its mission to uphold public safety and enforce immigration law, and consider carefully whether to refer those who obstruct our lawful enforcement efforts for criminal prosecution,” according to Moor’s statement.
Moor would not confirm whether Tuesday’s actions in Sonoma County were part of the broader deployment of specialized border patrol agents being sent inland to help enforce federal immigration laws in jurisdictions with sanctuary polices.
“ICE conducts targeted law enforcement activity on a daily basis, regardless of the compliance or policies of a state or local jurisdiction,” Moor said. “Due to law enforcement sensitivities and officer safety, ICE does not discuss planned operations or specific resource allocation.”
No data about how often ICE agents arrest people at the Sonoma County courthouse was immediately available from local or federal authorities. Anecdotally, local immigrant advocates and court officials said it is uncommon, though none could point to a specific recent instance in which an immigrant had been arrested at the courthouse.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly called out California for flouting his hard-line approach to immigration enforcement, a defining policy of his presidency. The 2017 California Values Act bars local resources from being used to assist federal immigration enforcement.
In October 2017 amid a wildfire crisis in Sonoma County, acting director of ICE, Thomas Homan, launched the county’s sanctuary polices into national headlines by calling out the Sheriff’s Office for not notifying the agency that an undocumented immigrant and arson suspect was at the jail, claiming the agency “left (the) community vulnerable to dangerous individuals.” Then-Sheriff Rob Giordano blasted Homan’s statement as inflammatory and inaccurate, wrongly injecting politics of immigration at a time when the community was grappling with a massive disaster.