Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents should not be hanging around Connecticut courthouses trying to pick up their targets.
On Oct. 31, ICE agents entered the state Superior Court in Derby to try to take a defendant into custody. They were after 23-year-old Domar Shearer, an Ansonia resident, who was from Jamaica and overstayed his visa. Shearer had come to the courthouse, as he should have, in connection with two misdemeanor arrests from the month before.
We are not judging Shearer’s charges related to domestic disturbances nor his involvement with ICE — though their focus should be on criminals with felony charges.
The point is that federal agents should not use state courthouses to conduct their business. Society must rely on the integrity of the court system. If courts are seen as avenues for entrapment, then those without documentation could be driven to avoid the system altogether, whether it’s coming forward as witnesses or answering charges in court.
In the Derby courthouse case, agents waited seven hours for Shearer, who sought refuge in the Public Defenders’ office until the building closed at 5 p.m. He was brought to an unnamed safe location.
This is similar to a scene at the state Superior Court in Danbury in July 2018. A 25-year-old undocumented man from Mexico ran out of the courthouse, when he saw the agents, and into a busy street where he was struck by an unmarked police car. He was in court on domestic violence charges. He was handcuffed and brought to the hospital with non life-threatening injuries.
“The federal government should not be in the business of pushing people outside of the justice system. For the safety of everyone, this has to stop,” we wrote in a July 20, 2018, editorial.
Connecticut has its own guidelines, called the Trust Act, first adopted in 2013 and strengthened with revisions that went into effect Oct. 1. Modifications prohibit law enforcement from detaining someone solely on the basis of a civil immigration case, unless they are convicted of the most serious felonies, are on a terrorist watch list or the subject of a judicial warrant. It also limits local and state police cooperation with federal ICE agents.
An estimated 120,000 undocumented people live in Connecticut, many of them peaceably and otherwise law abiding. One may argue that they shouldn’t be here. But they are and must be incorporated into the safety and justice of the legal system for society to avoid splintering into differing rules of law.
Chief Court Administrator Patrick Carroll rightfully requested ICE agents to leave the Derby courthouse last month to “allow for the court to function properly.”
Shearer’s case was continued until Nov. 21. We expect he will come to court, as required, and that ICE will let state legal proceedings unfold without interference.
ICE has a job to do — going after criminals who have committed felonies. That job should not be conducted in Connecticut courthouses.