The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, arguing the agency has failed to produce records about enforcement operations in and around courthouses.
Immigration arrests at courthouses have raise concerned in the last year among defense attorneys, judges and activist groups. They argue fear of arrest and deportation has kept some people from accessing the justice system.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, states ICE, which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and is also named as a defendant, hasn't fulfilled a Freedom of Information Act request.
"The Request sought copies of records concerning ICE enforcement actions in and near Oregon’s courthouses, in addition to specific records related to events near the Washington County courthouse in Hillsboro, Oregon on September 18, 2017," wrote Derek Green, a Portland-based attorney representing the ACLU of Oregon.
ICE confirmed to OPB in January 2017, agents made arrests at or near courthouses in Multnomah County, confirming the fears of some public officials and immigration activists.
On Sept. 18, while activists were protesting ICE agent's actions at the Washington County Courthouse in Hillsboro, ICE agents questioned a Washington County employee about his immigration status.
"While the vigil was occurring nearby, multiple agents in plain clothes and unmarked vehicles surrounded two individuals, both United States citizens, and – while refusing to announce the agents’ identities or agency affiliation – insisted that the individuals identify themselves," the ACLU's lawsuit states. "The agents showed the two individuals a photograph of a person and asserted that it was a picture of the man being stopped. According to the man detained for interrogation, the only element he had in common with the man in the photograph was the color of his skin."
The ACLU's public records request seeks information about enforcement actions at or near courthouses. In the past, the agency has argued that some actions at courthouses are necessary to arrest violent offenders who are in the United States illegally.
Last week, ICE issued new guidance about courthouse arrests. The agency said it would generally avoid non-criminal areas of courthouses and only target specific individuals with criminal convictions, gang affiliations or who pose a national security or public safety threat, among others.
"ICE will not make civil immigration arrests inside courthouses indiscriminately," the agency said in a new FAQ about courthouse arrests.
The ACLU has asked a federal judge to rule ICE violated the Freedom of Information Act and order the agency to produce the sought records.
No hearings have been set and attorneys for DHS and ICE have not yet responded to the legal action.