MIAMI - The US immigration and border control agency has formally issued a federal directive authorizing agents to make arrests in courts of people who do not have correct resident permits.
The measure allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to enter local, state and federal courts to arrest immigrants with pending deportation cases.
"Individuals entering courthouses are typically screened by law enforcement personnel to search for weapons and other contraband," reads the text published Wednesday. "Accordingly, civil immigration enforcement actions taken inside courthouses can reduce safety risks to the public, targeted alien(s), and ICE officers and agents."
"When practicable, ICE officers and agents will conduct enforcement actions discreetly to minimize their impact on court proceedings."
The directive says actions inside courthouses will primarily be against "specific, targeted aliens with criminal convictions, gang members, national security or public safety threats."
Family members, friends and witnesses "will not be subject to civil immigration enforcement action" -- unless there are "special circumstances," the document said.
ICE referenced so-called sanctuary cities -- which defy orders to hand over unauthorized immigrants arrested locally to federal officers -- as justification for the order, saying an "increasing unwillingness of some jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the safe and orderly transfer of targeted aliens inside their prisons and jails has necessitated additional at-large arrests."
Immigrant advocacy groups received the news with outrage.
"The consequent threats to universal access to justice and to public safety are tremendous, as immigrant communities become too afraid to seek justice in the criminal, family, and civil courts," said the New York-based Immigrant Defense Project.
© Agence France-Presse