Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle. It says when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents patrol courthouse hallways and parking lots it deters crime victims and witnesses from testifying and interferes with criminal prosecutions.
A similar lawsuit by prosecutors in Massachusetts has resulted in a preliminary court order blocking immigration agents from making civil arrests at courthouses there. The administration has appealed that order.
The University of Washington's Center for Human Rights said in a report in October that it had documented 51 reported immigration arrests at courthouses in the state since 2016. The researchers said they believe many more arrests have happened, but that it has been difficult to document them because ICE refused to release the information.
“If immigration officials can demonstrate that their courthouse arrests only target dangerous criminals, I will drop this lawsuit,” Ferguson said. “But they won’t do that because they can’t. The federal government has arrested many people who are simply trying to access justice for themselves or their families. That’s illegal, it makes us all less safe, and it needs to stop.”
The Washington Supreme Court has also asked federal immigration authorities to stop making courthouse arrests.
ICE said it does not comment on pending litigation but released this statement:
“ICE does not comment on pending litigation, that being said, ICE ERO officers have been provided broad at-large arrest authority by Congress and may lawfully arrest removable aliens in courthouses, which is often necessitated by local policies that prevent law enforcement from cooperating with ICE efforts to arrange for a safe and orderly transfer of custody in the setting of a state or county prison or jail and put political rhetoric before public safety.
"It is ironic that elected officials want to see policies in place to keep ICE out of courthouses, while caring little for laws enacted by Congress to keep 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.”
A similar lawsuit by prosecutors in Massachusetts has resulted in a preliminary order blocking immigration agents from making civil arrests at courthouses there.
The administration has appealed the Massachusetts order.