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RI chief justice expresses concern after arrest of Syrian man outside courthouse

Katie Mulvaney Journal Staff Writer kmulvane

PROVIDENCE, R.I. Weeks after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested a Syrian national outside a Providence courthouse, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court on Friday issued a statement saying that Rhode Island courthouses should be accessible to all, including undocumented immigrants. Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell made his comments addressing the arrest at the Rhode Island Bar Association annual meeting at the Convention Center. Suttell, according to a transcript, spoke of concerns that courthouses had been removed from locations such as school, hospitals and places of worship where ICE actions typically don’t take place. Suttell cautioned that news of the June 1 arrest by ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations of Abulkhalek Darwich, 48, of Pawtucket, following his Superior Court appearance at Licht Judicial Complex could deter people in the immigrant communities from coming to court to get restraining orders or other judicial relief.

“It is essential that our courts remain open and safe for everyone,” Suttell said. “I recognize that federal authorities must enforce our nation’s immigration laws. But at the same time our courts need to be accessible to everyone, regardless of immigration status, whether they are a crime victim, a witness, someone seeking a protection order or someone simply looking to pay a court fine.”

He continued: “Our courts are places where everyone is treated with respect, dignity and fairness. If people in our immigrant communities are afraid to come to court, out of fear for federal apprehension, our mission is compromised and there is a risk of our neighborhoods becoming less safe.”

The National Center of State Courts and the Conference of Chief Justices are working with Homeland Security representatives and the acting director of ICE to establish protocols, according to Suttell. He has arranged a meeting with the regional field office director of ICE.

“This is not just a Rhode Island concern, it is a national one,” Suttell said, adding, “Although any change in policy will undoubtedly come from Washington, it is important that local offices understand our concerns.”

Federal agents took Darwich into custody outside the Licht Judicial Complex after his court mandated appearance in a 2015 case charging him with felony importation of cigarettes with the intent to evade taxes and other misdemeanor tax offenses, according to Shawn Neudauer, public affairs officer for ICE New England. Darwich entered the United States lawfully as a visitor in 1998 and overstayed his lawful visit by nearly 20 years, Neudauer said in an email. Darwich will remain in ICE custody pending removal proceedings. Darwich in 2010 admitted to a misdemeanor charge of selling unstamped cigarettes and received a sentence of one year probation and $3,000-plus in fees, fines and restitution.

Asked what piqued ICE interest in Darwich recently, Neudauer said overstaying a visa by more than six months is of significance to ICE, along with his Syrian heritage.

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