Chief Justice Objects to Federal Immigration Enforcement at California Courthouses

Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye

Dear Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Kelly:

As Chief Justice of California responsible for the safe and fair delivery of justice in our state, I am deeply concerned about reports from some of our trial courts that immigration agents appear to be stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests.

Our courthouses serve as a vital forum for ensuring access to justice and protecting public safety. Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws.

Our courts are the main point of contact for millions of the most vulnerable Californians in times of anxiety, stress, and crises in their lives. Crime victims, victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, witnesses to crimes who are aiding law enforcement, limited-English speakers, unrepresented litigants, and children and families all come to our courts seeking justice and due process of law. As finders of fact, trial courts strive to mitigate fear to ensure fairness and protect legal rights. Our work is critical for ensuring public safety and the efficient administration of justice.

Most Americans have more daily contact with their state and local governments than with the federal government, and I am concerned about the impact on public trust and confidence in our state court system if the public feels that our state institutions are being used to facilitate other goals and objectives, no matter how expedient they may be.

Each layer of government – federal, state, and local – provides a portion of the fabric of our society that preserves law and order and protects the rights and freedoms of the people. The separation of powers and checks and balances at the various levels and branches of government ensure the harmonious existence of the rule of law.

The federal and state governments share power in countless ways, and our roles and responsibilities are balanced for the public good. As officers of the court, we judges uphold the constitutions of both the United States and California, and the executive branch does the same by ensuring that our laws are fairly and safely enforced. But enforcement policies that include stalking courthouses and arresting undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom pose no risk to public safety, are neither safe nor fair. They not only compromise our core value of fairness but they undermine the judiciary’s ability to provide equal access to justice. I respectfully request that you refrain from this sort of enforcement in California’s courthouses.

—Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye

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7 Responses to Chief Justice Objects to Federal Immigration Enforcement at California Courthouses

  1. deelmo says:

    Dear Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye,
    American citizens have nothing to fear. However, criminals have also been known to ‘hang out’ at courthouses. Only criminals, not law-abiding citizens, are suspicious of law-enforcement officers.
    Sincerely,
    A concerned citizen.

    • Tim says:

      This appears to be a myopic view of the purpose of the judicial branch. If only criminals are justly cautious of law enforcement our founders never would have included a right to be free from self incriminating in the Bill of Rights. But they wisely did.

  2. Kathy Heisleman says:

    This also sets up a false dichotomy: assuming that ‘criminals’ and ‘American citizens’ are 2 different groups. Not at all true…more ad hominem nonsense. Let’s not forget too the number of people who have been found to have been falsely convicted after serving years behind bars. And-‘citizens’ are not the only people who are entitled to seek redress from our court system. Many many legal residents, valid visa holders (and tourists) have the expectation that they will be protected by the laws of our country, whether reporting domestic violence, theft or other crimes.

    Some of those “American citizens” would be the first to squawk loudly and publicly if they were not protected by law enforcement when they traveled to other countries..

    • Tim says:

      And for me the bottom line is that everyone receives due process in our courts, no matter their status. To do less would mean we stop being the land of the free.

      • Muff Potter says:

        Amen Tim. I fervently believe this too. It’s a bulwark, a check, and a balance to tyrants who arise by deception and who play upon fear and xenophobia.

  3. Melody says:

    Thank you, Tim. Having almost been illegally in Germany due to ignorance of their laws once, I sympathize with people who have to navigate our court systems, particularly the many minors caught up in it all. Hearing so much more about this issue now where I live; shocked at too many Christians who lack awareness or empathy. Thank you for your compassion.

  4. Annabelle says:

    I was undocumented here for a number of years, a long time ago. I was seeking to change my visa to a different type, and did not know that the lawyer I had hired to represent me did not file any paperwork on my behalf. He sent me notices that certainly looked official, that stated I was allowed to work while my case was under review. It was only after he was investigated by what was then called the INS that I was informed that I was actually not within the bounds of the law. Not having valid papers can happen for a variety of reasons, as Melody says. I would guess that in most cases it is not because people prefer it.
    FWIW, I am a reasonably educated, native English-speaking, white person. It would be even more difficult to navigate the system if any of those descriptors were different.

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