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Immigrants in Ohio's traffic courts face new dangers

Does getting a traffic ticket equal a one-way ticket out of the country as well?

If you're an undocumented immigrant or an immigrant with any potential for deportation in Ohio, it could.

Attorneys for criminal defendants in various traffic courts and mayor's courts in small towns throughout Ohio are reporting that armed agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are going after immigrants who are in court to handle whatever traffic violation brought them there.

At least one attorney witnessed agents chase down a Hispanic immigrant and cuff him. The takedown was so abrupt that several witnesses believed they were watching an assault unfold right in front of their eyes. Agents were reportedly dressed in casual clothing, so that they didn't stand out among the ordinary crowd and wouldn't be spotted by immigrants as they arrived for court. They did not show their badges or identify themselves prior to making the arrest.

In the past, immigrants who received a traffic violation -- particularly in places like Ohio where there aren't huge immigrant populations -- could rely on the fact that they were safe from arrest and detainment by ICE agents. Traffic court officials didn't routinely call ICE to pick up an immigrant, even if they were undocumented.

In today's anti-immigration atmosphere, however, ICE agents are willing to go after any immigrant with a criminal charge. While ICE agents are supposedly focused only on those immigrants with felony convictions, those with experience say that's far from the reality of the situation.

In 2017, ICE did inform the courts that they would be going after immigrants inside some courthouses. However, they said they would only be looking for violent offenders and those with serious criminal records -- not anybody with a misdemeanor traffic ticket or petty crime on the books.

This action by ICE has the potential to negatively affect the entire legal community.

Word is already spreading throughout the immigrant communities in Ohio about courthouse dangers -- and criminal defense attorneys worry about the effect it will have on future cases. Immigrants accused of minor crimes may compound their problems by fleeing the jurisdiction of the court rather than risk detention by ICE. Immigrant witnesses may be afraid to step forward and testify for the same reason.

Source:, "Attorney: Immigration agents are targeting Ohio traffic courts," Feb. 28, 2018

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