Judge: Immigration agent nearly arrested wrong man at Nashville courthouse
Immigration courts across the United States are packed. That could slow up President Trump’s plans for large-scale deportations. Daniel Connolly, Kyleah Starling/The Tennessean
Lynda Jones(Photo: File)
A Nashville judge says a federal immigration agent who took a man from her courtroom last week nearly arrested the wrong man earlier in the day. A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent took Faustino Rodriguez Hernandez into custody Thursday to begin deportation proceedings while the judge and a defense lawyer were in another room, according to General Sessions Judge Lynda Jones. But Jones said Friday the agent also had come to the courthouse earlier Thursday.
“The agent informed my court officer that the true warranted individual was the ‘spittin image’ of the gentleman who was almost wrongfully arrested,” Jones wrote in an email. “My court officer stated that the ICE agent then said, ‘TRUST ME.’ “
The men looked nothing alike, according to Jones. A spokesman for ICE said Hernandez is a citizen of Honduras.
“Rodriguez is an aggravated felon with convictions for aggravated burglary, driving under the influence, as well as other misdemeanor charges,” ICE spokesman Thomas Byrd said in an email. “Rodriguez has been removed from the U.S. on two previous occasions.”
He said deportation officers are prosecuting Hernandez for illegal re-entry into the U.S. ICE’s presence at the Justice A.A. Birch Building criminal courthouse was seen by many as a harbinger of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration.
Nationally, ICE arrests of those who entered the nation illegally were up 38 percent in the first 100 days of Trump’s tenure from the same time period in 2016, according to the federal agency. And in that time, the government arrested 10,845 people whose only charge was an immigration violation, according to federal data released in May, more than twice the number in the same period last year under former President Barack Obama.
Hernandez had previously faced a charge of driving without a license, records show, and he was in court in Nashville on Thursday to show proof he’d completed a class.
Jones said Hernandez was not taken into custody in the courtroom. But a security officer told Jones he asked Hernandez to have a seat and wait for the federal agent, according to Jones. The 33-year-old was taken into custody on an ICE warrant, which is signed by an immigration officer and not a judge.
Confusion over the differences of warrants in immigration law and criminal law prompted Jones to say Thursday she would change court procedures. On Monday, she said a written explanation of law was provided to the chief of courthouse security to spread to all staffers. Immigration advocates said last week the presence of deportation agents could prevent immigrants from coming to court, and called on Nashville to approve bills that include sanctuary city-like policies, including one that would require warrants signed by judges before courthouse staff can enforce immigration law. On Monday, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition said the impact of the arrest was already evident.
“Since news of the arrest spread, we’ve seen an uptick in calls from immigrants asking if it’s safe for them to show up for court, to pay a ticket or to testify as victims and witnesses,” Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of TIRRC, said in an email. “The Metro Council must pass (legislation) to restore trust in our court system and to provide much needed clarity to metro employees who will increasingly be asked to be part of immigration enforcement.
“Until we take action, we can expect ICE agents to use public places and employees to profile and harass community members as they carry out mass deportations.”
An ICE official said deportation officers take safety into account when making an arrest and that courthouses can be an ideal location to do so.
“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.,” an ICE statement reads.
“Because courthouse visitors are typically screened upon entry to search for weapons and other contraband, the safety risks for the arresting officers and for the arrestee inside such a facility are substantially diminished.”
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, who has said the city will not engage in enforcement activities, has not addressed the logistics of how that will occur and did not comment specifically on ICE’s presence at a Nashville courthouse.
“After speaking with Judge Jones, we understand that policies and procedures will be put into place that protect the integrity of the judicial process within the General Sessions courts so that the processing of civil immigration warrants does not impede Nashville s criminal justice system,” Barry spokesman Sean Braisted said in an email. “Mayor Barry supports that decision.”
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- ^ U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (www.ice.gov)
- ^ Immigration arrest at Nashville courthouse latest in national trend (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ Immigration agents make arrests in Memphis one family’s story (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ ICE arrests of those who entered the nation illegally were up 38 percent (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ twice the number in the same period last year under former President Barack Obama. (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ How traffic stops lead to deportation for some Nashville immigrants (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ Muslim advocates blast ICE for ‘targeting’ Nashville Kurdish community (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ presence of deportation agents could prevent immigrants from coming to court (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ sanctuary city-like policies (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (www.tnimmigrant.org)
- ^ 1 in every 10 Nashvillians (www.nashville.gov)
- ^ 33,000 residents (www.tnimmigrant.org)
- ^ Nashville immigrants live in fear, make plans for deportation (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ Bill outlawing sanctuary cities in Tennessee delayed to 2018 (www.tennessean.com)
- ^ Why Nashville is not a sanctuary city and what that means (www.tennessean.com)