Immigrants are being swiftly and sometimes secretly arrested with little explanation by federal officials at courthouses across Minnesota, activists and public defenders say.
The matter came to a head when Carlos Urrutia was arrested on July 26 in the Ramsey County Courthouse by two plainclothes officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who yelled at and pushed away witnesses.
It’s unclear how many people have been arrested similarly, and local ICE officials declined to provide a number. Activists and public defenders said Urrutia’s case is not unusual.
“This keeps happening,” said Catalina Morales, an organizer with the interfaith group ISAIAH, who filmed Urrutia’s arrest. “Carlos was kidnapped from here last Thursday.”
Morales and about 75 people protested outside the Ramsey County courthouse Friday morning, calling for a stop to the arrests.
Ramsey County Chief Public Defender Jim Fleming, whose office was not representing Urrutia, said the Urrutia case was the only one he knew of in Ramsey County. But, he said, colleagues report similar arrests across Minnesota.
“[Immigrants] show up for court and [ICE officers] take you right out of the courthouse,” Fleming said. “One of the issues is they don’t have to identify themselves. They can do this without a warrant.”
Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty said ICE officials arrested a man outside of his pretrial hearing in her jurisdiction a few months ago. A while back, she said, ICE arrested someone at the probation office in the Hennepin County Government Center, where the courts are located, and another person was arrested at an off-site diversion program.
The arrests interfere with defendants’ rights to see their cases through, create fear about appearing in court and make immigrant victims reluctant to report crimes, the public defenders said.
“We know that ICE is basically lurking around the courthouse,” Moriarty said. “I think there are probably a lot of people out there who are unaccounted for because we don’t know what happened to them.”
Local ICE officials issued a statement Friday acknowledging the arrest of Urrutia, who had just been sentenced to five years’ probation for injuring a pedestrian in March 2017. He previously pleaded guilty to criminal vehicular operation while under the influence of alcohol.
The ICE office refused to say how many immigrants have been arrested at Minnesota courthouses, or address the conduct of the two officers captured in Morales’ video.
Two agents are shown in the video escorting Urrutia out of a courtroom as witnesses grow alarmed and ask for identification. The officers eventually identify themselves as immigration, and force several occupants out of a public elevator owned and operated by the county.
“Get out of the elevator!” one agent yells as Morales filmed from inside. “Get out of the elevator!”
Morales said Friday that the agents acted “very violent,” grabbing at her purse and arms as they forced her out.
Without specifically addressing the officers in Morales’ video, ICE officials said officers “conduct themselves with the authorities conveyed to them under federal law and the Constitution.”
People who intervene, ICE said, “recklessly endanger not only the enforcement personnel, but also the individuals targeted for arrest and potentially innocent bystanders.”
The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, which provides security in the courthouse, said ICE had informed them of the impending arrest Thursday. A county spokeswoman said that while the county would “continue to evaluate this situation,” the ICE officers were acting within their legal authority on public property.
Several faith leaders and Urrutia’s attorney, Graham Ojala-Barbour, spoke in his defense Friday. They described Urrutia, 44, as a leader within ISAIAH and his church, and a dedicated husband and father to three children ages 11 through 17.
Urrutia, a native of Mexico, has lived in the United States for 25 years, most of that time in Minnesota.
Urrutia was set for deportation Wednesday, but the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals granted him an emergency temporary stay of removal pending arguments before the court, Ojala-Barbour said.
Urrutia is being held without bail in the Sherburne County jail. Morales said activists will be trained to accompany immigrants to court to document any future arrests.