Rhode Island Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell told lawyers meeting in Providence today that he is concerned that arrests of undocumented immigrants inside or near state court buildings could lead to people skipping out on court appearances.
In comments to the Rhode Island Bar Association’s annual meeting at the R.I. Convention Center, the chief justice said he is worried that arrests of undocumented immigrants at court houses may deter some from going to court to testify as witnesses, victims of crime or from obtaining domestic abuse restraining orders.
Suttell’s comments came in the aftermath of U.S. immigration authorities arresting a man they identified as a Syrian national who was in the country illegally outside The Licht Complex, the building that houses the Rhode Island Superior and Supreme courts.
”This is not just a Rhode Island concern, it is a national one,”’ said Suttell, a former Republican state representative who lives in Little Compton. “It is essential that our courts remain open and safe for everyone. “
Suttell said he recognizes that “federal authorities must enforce our nation’s immigration laws.” But he said that the courts need to be accessible to everyone, regardless of immigration status, so that “they may seek justice—whether as a crime victim, a witness, someone seeking a protection order or someone simply looking to pay a fine.”
“Our courts are places where everyone is treated with respect, dignity and fairness,” Suttell told the bar association meeting. “If people in our immigrant communities are afraid to come to court, out of fear of federal apprehension, our core mission is compromised and there is a risk of neighborhoods become less safe. It is vitally important, therefore, that in carrying out their responsibilities, federal authorities do so in a way that does not undermine the trust and confidence that people have in our court system.”
Suttell also said that he and other state judges are working with the federal Department of Homeland security and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Service to develop protocols and best practices for dealing with this issue.