Immigration authorities have arrested a man they identified as a Syrian national who was in this country illegally outside the Providence County Superior Courthouse. ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said the man, Abdulkhalek Darwich, came to the United States lawfully in 1998 but overstayed his visa.
Darwich was detained on June 1st following a required court appearance. He faces criminal charges in a case involving the sale of cigarettes without a state tax stamp.
Legal professionals expressed surprise at the arrest. Darwich appeared to have no violent criminal convictions in his background. And the location of the arrest, outside a court building, struck many attorneys as unusual.
"In terms of actually going to courthouses and waiting for people, I hadn't seen that happen until now," said Deborah Gonzalez, who runs the Immigration Clinic at Roger Williams University Law School. "Even under the Obama administration when they were required to pick people up who had felonies."
Gonzalez warned that detaining immigrants in and around courthouses could have a chilling effect on the justice system.
"Do you go to court and try to defend yourself on a case that maybe you'll likely not get detained on, or do you go to court knowing that you will leave, but wait a minute, now you may get picked up by immigration," said Gonzalez.
ICE's Shawn Neudauer said arrests at courthouses are not unheard of, but they generally occur when investigators have exhausted other options.
"It’s important to note that many of the arrest targets ICE has sought out at or near courthouses are foreign nationals who have prior criminal convictions in the U.S.," Neudauer wrote in an email.
The Trump administration has expanded the focus of ICE beyond immigrants with significant criminal backgrounds, which Neudauer indicated could lead to an increase in stops at courthouses.
"There are no protected classes of aliens, none," said Neudauer.
In this case, Darwich may have caught the attention of immigration authorities because he comes from Syria and because he is believed to have significantly overstayed a visa. He has also faced criminal charges in the past. Court records show he pleaded no contest in 2010 to selling cigarettes without a state tax stamp, charges similar to those he currently faces.