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ICE Should Stop Conducting Raids At New York Courthouses, Gonzalez Says


U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officers have stepped up their efforts to detain and deport immigrants who are in the country illegally under orders from President Trump. ICE says arrests have been up nearly 40 percent over the same period in 2016. And one way ICE agents have tracked down undocumented immigrants is to come to courthouses, where they may be on trial for minor traffic or other offenses. Eric Gonzalez, the acting district attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y., is opposed to that. He joins us from his office. Thanks so much for being with us.

ERIC GONZALEZ: Thank you for having me, Scott.

SIMON: You and the New York attorney general have called for ICE to stop conducting raids at courthouses. Why?

GONZALEZ: When ICE comes to court, it serves as a deterrent for law-abiding people to come in as witnesses and victims. It's less likely that they cooperate with my office. And as a result, I'm afraid that we are going to see some bad people be freed because witnesses and victims choose not to come. And ICE has removed people charged with low-level offenses, even before they have been convicted of the crime, depriving us of pursuing, you know, the case and due process.

SIMON: Well, to fill in the blanks, you're suggesting that people who are in this country illegally, nevertheless, can offer valuable testimony in criminal cases. And they'd be reluctant to come forward and do that if they thought they were going to be arrested at the courthouse.

GONZALEZ: Exactly, Scott. But it's not just a belief. I've seen it. We just had a case where a man, fortunately, was able to get out of ICE custody - a man named William Hurtado who fully cooperated in 2012 on a homicide case. He testified as an eyewitness in the killing, and his testimony was invaluable in securing the conviction of these two killers. He also provided additional evidence in another homicide case. So in total, his testimony helped secure convictions for five people who had killed other people.

SIMON: Well, maybe I've watched too many episodes of "Law And Order." But can you not go to ICE or other people and say, look, we need this person here. Let me make a deal so they won't be prosecuted for immigration crime.

GONZALEZ: They believe that coming to court is easier for them to locate people they're looking for. And we're calling on ICE to treat courthouses as sensitive locations. It does not absolutely prevent ICE from coming in and doing an enforcement action. But like churches and other sensitive locations, ICE will voluntarily not do an enforcement action unless absolutely necessary.

SIMON: You are an officer of the court as the district attorney. No matter what good work people have done, if they're in this country illegally, aren't you obliged to make them subject to the rule of law which might involve getting detained by ICE?

GONZALEZ: I think that due process requires people to have their day in court, you know? And some of the people ICE is coming and arresting are people here with green cards and other status, but ICE is taking custody nonetheless.

SIMON: I understand that ICE has said no to the whole idea of a sensitive location. Do you have any options?

GONZALEZ: Well, I think that we are starting to do the process of documenting and quantifying how often that's interfering with cases, you know? But I can tell you that domestic violence prosecutors here, some of our social workers and many of the assistant DAs say that when they're speaking to witnesses and victims, they are asking about ICE in the court rooms.

They ask if it's safe to come down, safe to participate. And the police commissioner here in New York heard at a public forum, people were asking was it safe to report crime to the police if they had immigration concerns. So I think all of that put together will mean that people who commit crimes will get a benefit because many less people will cooperate.

SIMON: The acting district attorney of Brooklyn, Eric Gonzalez, thanks so much.

GONZALEZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEIL COWLEY TRIO'S "KNEEL DOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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