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Public Defenders Protest New ICE Arrest At Bronx Criminal Court

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Attorneys with the Legal Aid Society and Bronx Defenders staged a protest outside of Bronx Criminal Court on Thursday over what they say was another client arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at the state courthouse.

According to information provided by Legal Aid, 27-year-old Aboubacar Dembele, originally from the Ivory Coast, has been in the United States since the age of 3. He has no criminal record, and was at the Bronx courthouse attempting to resolve an open case of misdemeanor assault when he was arrested outside by ICE, the public defender organization said.

Dembele also reportedly was attempting to apply for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program when it was rescinded by the Trump administration last year. He currently has a green card application pending through his wife, who’s a U.S. citizen.

Legal Aid Society staff attorney Casey Dalporto said the public defenders are ”just fed up” with ICE enforcement actions in state courthouses and are “refusing to ignore or let … slide” the latest arrest.

“It sends a chilling message to the entire immigrant community in Bronx, and for the client it obviously strips them of all of their due process rights,” she said.

The actions in Bronx are the latest protest by public defenders over ICE actions. Last November, attorneys took to the streets outside a Brooklyn courthouse after a client, Genaro Rojas-Hernandez, was arrested. He was reportedly at court to deal with a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.

Dalporto said ICE’s actions are making it more challenging for attorneys to counsel their clients.

“Everyone is terrified to come to court,” she said, noting that attorneys are having to persuade clients that doing so “isn’t a trap.”

When asked if clients were being convinced, she replied, “No.”

The state court system, led by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, has received criticism from public defenders and immigrant rights activists for not doing more to defend people from arrest inside the courthouses. Dalporto said that Thursday’s arrest was not “directly facilitated” by the Office of Court Administration. However, she expressed frustration over what she felt was a failure of action on the part of state court administrators.

“I think Janet DiFiore really dropped the ball and she should have sent a message that ICE is not welcome, and that our court systems won’t facilitate these apprehension activities,” Dalporto said. Not doing so has allowed ICE “to just troll” courthouses, she said.

The attorneys planned to protest until 3:30 p.m. Thursday, according to Dalporto.

“We want to send a clear message that we object to OCA’s involvement with ICE, and we want to send a clear message to ICE that we want them out of our place of work,” she said.

In a statement, OCA spokesman Lucian Chalfen noted that ICE recently announced a new policy regarding actions in courthouses. The new policy, he said, “is a direct result of our communications with ICE officials … at the national and regional levels.”

Since the arrest Thursday happened before the man physically entered the courthouse, Chalfen noted OCA personnel were not involved. He added the court administrative office is “pleased that [ICE is] making an effort to treat the courthouse as a place of last resort.”

“We will continue to request that they treat all courthouses as sensitive locations, and will continue to raise these issues with ICE officials,” he said. “We continue to ensure that any activity by outside law enforcement agencies does not cause disruption or compromise court operations, along with having to react quickly so that defendants are properly represented when defender organizations hold impromptu protests.”