The Slatest

Biden Administration Ends ICE Use of America’s Courthouses to Target Immigrants

A view from the gallery in the back of a courtroom of the judge's chair and the witness stand.
Under the Trump administration, immigrants were being targeted for arrest during unrelated civil proceedings. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced it’s rolling back Trump-era rules that allowed immigration officers to use America’s courthouses and unrelated, often mundane legal proceedings to target individuals for possible immigration violations. Under the new rules, issued by the Department of Homeland Security, immigration agencies—such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection—will no longer be able to seek out individuals who were engaged with the legal system for reasons unrelated to their immigration status. That meant, under Trump, immigrants, particularly undocumented ones, testifying in trials or seeking protective orders from the court for abusive spouses could be nabbed at the door on the way out and subject to immigration proceedings, including deportation.


The result was exactly what you’d expect: It became increasingly difficult to get people to participate in the legal system, to testify to witnessing crimes, to seek help of any kind. “In one widely reported case in 2017, ICE agents arrested a woman in an El Paso, Texas, courthouse just after she had been granted a protective order against an allegedly abusive partner,” NPR notes. “A victim advocate who had accompanied her to the court appearance said one ICE agent was inside the protective-order courtroom, two more were guarding each exit door and other agents were staking out the 10th floor of the courthouse building.”

The change was made, DHS said, to better balance the needs of the court system, particularly in civil matters. “The expansion of civil immigration arrests at courthouses during the prior administration had a chilling effect on individuals’ willingness to come to court or work cooperatively with law enforcement,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in statement. ICE can still intervene in the courtroom, however, when there is specific threat to public safety or national security.