The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that federal agents will now have limited power to make arrests in or near courthouses for most immigration violations. New guidance issued on April 27, 2021, specifies the circumstances in which agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can carry out civil enforcement activities.
ICE and CBP officers can arrest people in and around courthouses only if there is a national security matter, a hot pursuit that involves a public safety threat or if evidence pertinent to a criminal proceeding is at imminent risk of destruction. Federal agents are also permitted to make arrests if someone faces an imminent risk of physical harm or death.
The interim guidance marks a reversal of the Trump Administration’s controversial immigration enforcement policy. In 2018, ICE formalized a policy authorizing government agents to target federal, state, and local courthouses and arrest people for immigration violations. The practice was criticized for having a chilling effect on the justice system, deterring some witnesses from appearing in court out of fear of being arrested.
The policy change is intended to balance enforcing civil immigration laws and ensuring necessary access to courts. ICE and CBP will be required to provide a monthly report to the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties detailing all arrests in or near courthouses.