Chicago – Calling on adherence to the tradition and mission of Illinois’ courts to be open to all persons in our state, a diverse group of nearly 20 advocacy organization from across Illinois joined together to call on Chief Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier urging him to take steps to protect immigrants’ access to the state’s courts.  In a letter dated today, the collective organizations ask Chief Justice Karmeier to take two actions that will insure that all persons – including persons who are undocumented – are able to access the courts without fear of arrest by federal immigration agents. 

The organizations represented (complete list attached) include several bar associations, providers of direct legal services to immigrants, newcomers and refugees, as well as groups devoted to assist survivors of domestic violence.

An alarming number of news reports demonstrate the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are conducting enforcement actions, detaining individuals, and targeting persons in courthouses across the nation, including in Illinois.  The letter states that these actions have the effect of limiting the use of the justice system, even for those who desperately need protection by our justice system. 

Specifically, the Chief Justice is encouraged to join the growing number of state court high justices asking the Secretary of Homeland Security to “refrain from immigration enforcement” at local courthouses.  Additionally, the Chief Justice is being asked to direct Circuit Courts across the state not to adopt policies that encourage or require reporting of criminal defendants born in other countries to immigration authorities.

The advocacy groups detail a particularly troubling situation in Illinois’ Sixth Judicial District  -- located in Central Illinois – that appears to require probation offices to report “foreign-born” individuals to ICE.  This legally dubious policy results in persons arriving for a mandatory meeting with a probation officer only to find ICE agents waiting to take them into custody.

In part, the letter reads “(w)e respectfully request that you exercise the supervisory authority vested in you as Chief Justice to instruct the Chief Judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit to withdraw” the order in question, and “advise the other Circuits” that they should not report information about those involved in the justice system to ICE.  

The letter also urges Chief Justice Karmeier to join other state high court leaders who have called on DHS not to enforce immigration laws in their courthouses.  These calls have taken on added urgency since February, when DHS agents in El Paso, Texas arrests an undocumented woman at a local courthouse after she appeared in court to testify against an abusive ex-boyfriend.  Officials believe that the abuser notified ICE of her hearing date and location. 

“The arrest in El Paso County sent shock waves of fear through the immigrant communities across the country.  According to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) chief, reports of sexual assault and domestic violence made by Latinas have plummeted in 2017 ….. reports of sexual assault have dropped 25%, while reports of domestic violence have fallen by 10%.”

Chief Justices in California, Washington and New Jersey all have sent letters to DHS Secretary John Kelly asking DHS to refrain from conducting immigration enforcement action at or near state courthouses. The collected advocacy groups believe that a similar letter from Chief Justice Karmeier would be of “tremendous value” in keeping Illinois’ system of justice open to all who need its protection.