More than 100 public defenders walked out and staged a protest at the Bronx Criminal Court in New York City after an undocumented client was detained by federal immigration agents as he left the courthouse, giving credence to advocates’ claims that fear of deportation keeps victims and witnesses from participating in the legal system.
“As public defenders responsible for providing critical legal representation to hundreds of thousands of people across our city each year, we have watched Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials turn New York City’s courthouses into immigration enforcement zones,” the Legal Aid Society said. “The presence of ICE officers in our courthouses and the perception that no immigrant is safe to seek their day in court, is threatening to upend our entire legal process and the principles upon which it stands.”
The legal services nonprofit shared videos from outside the courthouse on Thursday:
Casey Dalporto, a Legal Aid Society staff attorney, told the New York Law Journal that undocumented clients are “terrified to come to court,” and public defenders—who held a similar protest outside a Brooklyn courthouse in November—are “just fed up” with the ICE arrests.
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“It sends a chilling message to the entire immigrant community in the Bronx, and for the client it obviously strips them of all of their due process rights,” Dalporto said. “We want to send a clear message to ICE that we want them out of our place of work.”
The client detained by federal agents in the Bronx is 27-year-old Aboubacar Dembele, who came to the United States from the Ivory Coast at age 3. Zaquera Laniere, his wife and a U.S. citizen, told WNYC that they were surrounded by federal immigration agents the moment they left the courthouse.
“It was like eight of them stepped in front of us. It’s like an ambush,” Laniere said. “You finish one case. You’re walking out freely. But as soon as you step outside you’re going right back into handcuffs.”
She added that agents mentioned his recently denied application for Deferred Action for Childhood (DACA), a program that is under attack from the Trump administration because it provides protection from deportation to undocumented people who entered the country as children.
Laniere said the agents told her husband: “We got to take you in. Your DACA got denied.”
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