HILLIARD, OH (WCMH) — If you find yourself in traffic court, or any mayor’s court in Central Ohio, you might find yourself in the middle of an armed takedown.
It happened last week outside Mayor’s Court in Hilliard, where two federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officers are seen on surveillance video chasing an immigrant and putting him in handcuffs. Witnesses to the event and the attorney for the Hispanic man thought they were witnessing an assault.
“They were dressed very informally, looked like construction workers. One of them wore a hoodie,” says attorney Joseph Mas, who was representing the man taken into custody on a simple traffic violation. ” I do handle other far more dangerous cases that unfortunately end up with witnesses getting hurt. I was afraid I was in the middle of one of those instances.”
Mas says ICE agents are going after undocumented immigrants who report to traffic court or for other low-level misdemeanors in Central Ohio because there are few immigrant felons here.
“When they tell you, ‘oh, don’t worry we are going after the worst of the worst, we are going after gang members,’ this is a lie,” says Mas.
ICE last year claimed it was targeting only violent and felonious offenders inside the nation’s courthouses. But, in a new advisory sent to Ohio Courts, the National Center for State Courts says it requested that ICE agents only make arrests at courthouses in “exigent” circumstances, but that request was denied.
NCSC says court officials in several states raised concerns about the practice of making arrests at courthouses because, “the potential impact extends beyond those who might be targets of immigration enforcement activities and also includes family member and others in the community, where levels of trust and confidence in the judicial system are already low.”
The fear is that crime witnesses and victims will no longer come forward.
Mas says the word is spreading through the Ohio immigrant community that courthouses are not safe for them. He says in the Hilliard incident, the ICE agents did not show badges or identify themselves before taking into custody a man who was answering a simple traffic summons. Mas says his client has been in this country for nearly two decades and has two American born children.
Congressman Steve Stivers claims ICE is required to show identification and “their focus hopefully is going to be on violent criminal offenders.” Stivers was unaware of the details of the arrest in Hilliard, which is the heart of his district, but promised to investigate.
In the meantime, Mas says he had to call his client’s wife to tell her he will not be coming home and has been deported.
“That is the reason I practice criminal defense and not immigration law,” he said. “My heart would be broken all the time.”