A bill that blocks federal immigration officers from surveilling or arresting undocumented immigrants at New York state courthouses was approved Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a measure that was hailed by advocates and state lawmakers.
The law was approved earlier this year, aimed preventing officers from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency from taking official actions at state courthouses. The concern stems in part from ensuring immigrants will be able to participate in the state's legal system, such as appearing as witnesses, without fear of federal enforcement action.
"Our state took a necessary step to provide basic protections for immigrants in and around our state’s judicial facilities regardless of who is in the White House," said Eddie A. Taveras, the New York Immigration director at the group FWD.us. "This will help safeguard immigrant families who could be needlessly torn apart without these protections, ensure all New Yorkers are provided the justice they deserve when going to the courthouse, and make our communities safer."
The new law comes as part of a series of laws in New York meant to bolster protections for undocumented immigrants in New York. In 2019, lawmakers approved a measure allowing for driver's licenses to be access regardless of immigration status, which resulted in a protracted battle with the federal government that was ultimately resolved.
The measure was backed in the Legislature by Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages.
“This new law is a powerful rebuke to the outgoing Trump administration and their immigration policies that have undermined our judicial system," Hoylman said.
"After today, New York’s courts will no longer be hunting grounds for federal agents attempting to round-up and initiate deportation proceedings against immigrants. The Protect Our Courts Act bars ICE from making warrantless civil arrests of immigrants attending court proceedings and gives New Yorkers the peace of mind that our courthouses remain sanctuaries of justice."
In a statement, Solages said a court appearances remains a "real and tangible" fear for undocumented immigrant communities.
"The Protect of Courts Act reaffirms our commitment to the principles of justice that our courts were founded on," she said. "All New Yorkers regardless of income, race, religion, or immigration status should have the opportunity to use the court system to advocate for themselves and their interests."