Advocates Urge Chief Justice To Make Oregon State Courthouses a Safe Space For All

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Advocates Urge Chief Justice To Make Oregon State Courthouses a Safe Space For All

Portland, OR  ー Last week, the Innovation Law Lab learned, in a letter from the Chief Justice of the State of Oregon, that she has postponed her decision on whether to prohibit ICE arrests in and around Oregon’s state courthouses.  The letter, which was sent from Chief Justice Martha Walters to Bryan Wilcox, ICE’s Acting Field Office Director, explains that “the courthouse arrests that ICE is continuing to make are continuing to have an adverse effect on the administration of justice.”  But rather than put a stop to the arrests by making a rule that prohibits them, the Chief Justice requested a meeting with Wilcox “to discuss further measures that could be instituted to ensure that Oregonians have access to justice.” The Chief Justice does not explain in her letter what those “further measures” might include.

In December 2018, the Law Lab and the ACLU of Oregon, on behalf of a coalition of several other petitioning organizations, formally petitioned the Chief Justice to issue an emergency rule prohibiting ICE arrests at or near our state courthouses.  The rule is aimed at putting a stop to all immigration arrests that take place while an individual is going to, attending, or returning from court.  It is grounded in an ancient, common-law rule that the Oregon Supreme Court has recognized for decades.  The purpose of the rule is two-fold: to protect individual rights to access legitimate and necessary courthouse services without interference, and to protect the administration of justice by our state courts.  Under Oregon law, the Chief Justice has the authority to issue emergency rules to protect the administration of justice, protect individual rights to access justice, and maintain decorum in courthouses across the state. 

Last week’s letter is part of an ongoing inquiry that the Chief Justice is undertaking in response to the Law Lab’s petition.  Since the petition was filed, ICE arrests at Oregon’s state courthouses have continued unabated, many involving the use physical force by ICE agents against individuals, their families, and bystanders.  Plainclothes ICE agents generally have refused to present any warrant for making an arrest, or to provide individuals with access to an attorney, even if one is present. ICE’s activities have caused widespread fear ー by noncitizens and citizens alike ー for the safety and security of Oregon’s immigrant communities, especially communities of color.  The activities have significantly disrupted the ability of our state courts to administer justice and to fully protect our individual rights. And, under well-settled state law, ICE’s activities are illegal.

Innovation Law Lab and the ACLU of Oregon are continuing to urge the Chief Justice to act ー and to act quickly.  We are working together with our coalition of petitioning organizations, including Adelante Mujeres, Causa Oregon, Immigration Counseling Service, Metropolitan Public Defender, Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, Unite Oregon, and the Victim Rights Law Center, to urge Chief Justice Walters to immediately issue a rule that makes our state courthouses a safe space for all Oregonians. 

At this juncture, we could use your help ー if you have a personal story to share, have in any way been impacted by ICE’s activities, or want more information on what you can do in response, please contact Nadia Dahab, pro bono attorney for the Innovation Law Lab, at ndahab@stollberne.com.

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