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Legal aid attorneys demand ICE agents stop targeting immigrants at court

BROOKLYN — There is little debate over the legal black hold left behind when it comes to undocumented individuals apprehended and taken into Immigrations and Customs Enforcement custody; however, a group of attorney's Tuesday said they believe many are being robbed of due process at the Brooklyn Criminal Courthouse.

Brooklyn Defender Services and Legal Aid Society joined forces in a spontaneous walk out and rally. They have reached a breaking point over ICE's actions at that courthouse.

Jane Sampeur, with the Legal Aid Society, said she witnessed what she called aggressive behavior by plain clothed ICE agents, who apprehended one of their clients.

That client was Genaro Rojas Hernandez, who was in court to face charges of assault, attempted assault menacing and harassment. Sampeur and and other attorneys said what played out at the courthouse Tuesday is something they witness on a daily basis.  As their undocumented clients come to address charges, often times misdemeanors, ICE agents are waiting for them.

"It's disrupting justice.  It's making our clients scared to come to court.  It's making victims scared to come to court. It's making witnesses scared to come to court, not just criminal court, but family court and housing court as well," said Scott Hechinger with Brooklyn Defender Services.

In a statement to PIX11, ICE acknowledges courthouses are safer places to make arrests, since visitors are screened and contrary to the opinions of Mayor Bill de Blasio and Brooklyn's District Attorney, they also said "ICE does not consider courthouses sensitive locations."

In regards to Mr. Hernandez, a Mexican citizen, ICE said he has "two separate criminal charges pending following arrests by the New York City Police Department" and he was permitted to complete his hearing before being apprehended by ICE Tuesday. .

Dozens of attorney's taking part in Tuesday's protests, however, said ICE is robbing people of due process.

"They're picking up people at criminal court. They're not picking up people in the felony building. They're going after people with the lowest level offenses. They're the easiest to get," said on Brooklyn staff attorney, Martha Lineberger.

Another staff attorey, Sarah Siegel said, "ICE is a federal agency that should under federal rules and principals wait for state court proceedings to finish before interfering with those proceedings.  Nothing about this is ok."

The protest ended in front of Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez's office.  Gonzalez tweeted his support to the public defenders today and called ICE's tactics a misguided policy.

Mayor Bill de Blasio also weighed in and said ICE's actions are a threat to public safety.

“Overbroad federal immigration enforcement in courts is a threat to public safety that discourages victims, witnesses and defendants from coming forward," said city spokesperson Seth Stein. "While the courts are under the State’s jurisdiction, we are in communication with OCA on how the courts can remain a safe, neutral venue for all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status.”