California Chief Justice Slams ‘Stalking’ of Undocumented Immigrants at Courts

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye addresses a hearing in San Francisco, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012. (AP Photo (pool)/Paul Sakuma)

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye addresses a hearing in San Francisco in January 2012. (AP Photo (pool)/Paul Sakuma)

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye says she is “deeply concerned” at reports that federal immigration agents are, in her words, “stalking undocumented immigrants” and arresting them at trial courts in the state.

The chief justice said courts should not be used as “bait” in the enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws, adding that courthouses are full of vulnerable people seeking justice.

“Our courts are the main point of contact for millions of the most vulnerable Californians in times of anxiety, stress, and crises in their lives,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote on Thursday.

“Crime victims, victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, witnesses to crimes who are aiding law enforcement, limited-English speakers, unrepresented litigants, and children and families all come to our courts seeking justice and due process of law.”

Cantil-Sakauye added that most undocumented immigrants pose no risk to public safety. She noted that while enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws is necessary, “enforcement policies that include stalking courthouses and arresting undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom pose no risk to public safety, are neither safe nor fair.”

She asked that federal agencies “refrain from this sort of enforcement in California’s courthouses.”

When asked what prompted the letter, Supreme Court spokesman Cathal Conneely said there was an incident at the Pasadena Courthouse and that “judicial officers throughout the state have been expressing concerns to (the Chief) about what they are experiencing in local courtrooms and courthouses.”

Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), acknowledged that agents do sometimes track down wanted immigrants at courthouses, but only as a last resort.

“While ICE does arrest targets at courthouses, generally it’s only after investigating officers have exhausted other options,” Kice said.

In a reference to state and local laws limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities, Kice said “many law enforcement agencies no longer honor ICE detainers, (so) these individuals, who often have significant criminal histories, are released onto the street, presenting a potential public safety threat.”

Kice also noted that ICE prioritizes safety of its agents and others, and that courthouses are relatively safe places to apprehend wanted immigrants since they’ve already gone through metal detectors and other security measures.

  • Curious

    Disgraceful. A judge should not be condoning and encouraging illegal acts.

  • Sasquatch

    ICE’s job is to detain and deport people, and I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t use every tactic possible to do so expeditiously.

    • Philip W. Steinberg

      What happened to deporting convicted criminals first? In Southern California, how do you tell the illegal immigrant from the person of Mexican heritage who has been in California for 12 generations.

      • Sasquatch

        We are deporting convicted criminals first. And then the rest. You ask for their papers, I assume.

  • lyle norden

    Heh Tani, Being an immigrant or recent progeny thereof is not a call to “circle the wagons.” Come to Phoenix and try to make a living for a family on cement pouring, framing or less exalted jobs. ILLEGAL (It must be confusing for you with your knee repeatedly hitting you in the head) aliens (you can look that up too) DO lower wages AND their remittances remove needed capital from the economy.

    Re-new your bar card if you want to take a position on political issues. Otherwise shut your mouth.

    • Britney.jamie

      This is a pretty uneducated and disrespectful post.

      Think about the bigger picture here. Do you really think it’s helpful to prosecuting and preventing crimes for victims and witnesses to be afraid to come to court or to speak to the police?

      • annjohns

        A bigger picture than the ability to make a living to support yourself and your family? Or is the bigger picture how so many illegal immigrants are involved in criminal courts that this is even an issue?

        • Britney.jamie

          Undocumented Immigrants are not the biggest threat to anyone’s ability to support themselves and their family, and I’m not solely talking about criminal courts. The court system is turned to for assistance with a myriad of things– Guardianships to care for children and the elderly, protection from varying forms of abuse, to seek fair financial compensation in small claims matters, handling traffic fines and fees.

    • Whamadoodle

      If you’re pretending that undocumented immigrants hurt the economy, that’s false. Studies have repeatedly shown that they improve their host economies. When several states banned the use of undocumented labor, there wasn’t some economic miracle because remittances and lower wages went away; instead, those states’ industries lost hundreds of millions of dollars in cold, hard cash, as fruit and vegetables died on the vine, because native-born Americans don’t want to do that work, even at minimum wage. Georgia alone lost $140 million, and that’s just one state, for just one year.

      • jurgispilis

        When native-born Americans don’t want to do that work, you raise the wages and improve the working conditions. That’s what unions and the labor movement are all about. Free labor is the best labor.

        • Whamadoodle

          Yes, it would be nice if that ever happened. However, as the article I posted (and several other states’ experience, when they enacted similar bans on undocumented immigrants’ labor) shows, that does not happen. What happens instead is that the fruit and veg goes unpicked, because the companies can’t afford to raise wages, and there are multi-hundred-million dollar (multi-billion-dollar, if allowed to continue longer than a year, over more than one state) losses to business.

    • Whamadoodle

      (Also, I don’t see YOU showing your bar card before you take a position on political issues, and you’re not shutting YOUR mouth.)

  • jurgispilis

    Illegal aliens are not Californians. You don’t disagree with this, Tani? Do you?

    • Whamadoodle

      So high and mighty. When you find yourself in their situation, and face death (and these people often suffer death) crossing the desert to find work, your pride will goeth. That’s what it will take for you folks to learn empathy, I suppose; such a crash in your economic circumstances that you are forced to become a refugee, and to go somewhere you’re not wanted, where haughty natives declaim about how they want to “get rid of all these immigrants” (without ever making clear whether they mean legally, or by violence), while at the same time pretending it’s the immigrants who are more intrinsically criminal than good, honest natives. It will come to you one day.

      • jurgispilis

        You are indeed a poet, whamster. Beautiful words. Very nice cadence.

  • Philip W. Steinberg

    Who among you white folks is willing to pick the crops, clean the hotel rooms, mind your children for the wages paid to illegal immigrants? I guess it is no longer necessary to show compassion to the strangers among us.

    • Sasquatch

      Totally agree. Who will pick our cotton w/o modern day slaves?

      • Whamadoodle

        You DO agree, in fact: you acknowledge that the answer to the question, “who among you is willing to pick the crops” is “not me, that’s for sure.” Not one of you people now complaining ever did that, ever will do that, or ever will WANT to do that, even if they paid minimum wage for it.

      • Philip W. Steinberg

        How about the displaced rust belt workers. I don’t see many Americans lining up to pick crops in the California central valley.

    • annjohns

      . Really? So you are cool with paying substandard wages to illegal immigrants so you can save a few bucks.

      • Whamadoodle

        Seems to me Philip asked a question: who among you is willing to pick the crops?

        Answer: none of you.

  • jskdn

    Sounds like Cantil-Sakauye wants courtrooms to be sanctuaries for illegal immigrants. “Stalking” suggest some inimical activity, as if enforcing immigration laws is a bad thing. I suspect that reflects her true sentiments.


Scott Shafer

Scott Shafer migrated to KQED in 1998 after extended stints in politics and government to host The California  Report. Now he covers those things and more as senior editor for KQED's Politics and Government Desk. When he's not asking questions you'll often find him in a pool playing water polo. Find him on Twitter @scottshafer

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