Posted by J. Garrett Kizer
If you’re worried about being arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) because you’re living in the United States without immigration documents or if you overstayed a Visa, it’s reasonable to be careful—many people in this situation spend a lot of time looking over their shoulder.
If you have a civil court date you’re supposed to attend, you might also be very concerned that ICE will arrest you at or outside the courthouse. To be fair, the news has had plenty of stories of this happening, so you might be thinking about skipping your hearing altogether. Skipping your hearing, however, could have serious consequences for you personally and even make your immigration situation worse.
Failing to appear for a civil hearing can result in many serious negative consequences. You are required to appear before court when you receive a summons and, first, a Judge can hold you in “contempt”—which is a legal ruling that you disobeyed a court order. If you are found guilty of contempt, a Judge may impose a number of punishments. These could include requiring you to pay money to the other party and even jail time. Additionally, the Judge may rule against you at the hearing—requiring you to pay more for child or spousal support or reducing your visitation with your children.
When you’re thinking about the immigration consequences, it’s important to remember that ICE’s enforcement is very discretionary. For instance, if you don’t have any criminal or civil violations, they’re less likely to expend resources attempting to arrest you (that doesn’t mean they won’t, just that they are less likely to). However, if you are held in contempt for failing to appear at a hearing or failing to pay child support, ICE is much more likely to arrest you. If you fail to appear at a court hearing and are later put into immigration proceedings, your failure to appear will probably be used against you, making it more likely that you will be unable to leave detention and more likely that you will be deported.
Your county courthouse may not be as dangerous as you think, either. Many of our local county courthouses are unable to voluntarily provide information to ICE. For instance, in January, 2021, Fairfax County adopted a policy stopping all county employees from voluntarily cooperating with ICE. In July, 2022, Arlington County adopted a similar policy. While your name would still appear on a public docket, this means that ICE can’t simply ask a county court to send them notices of when certain people will be at the courthouse. Additionally, ICE agents cannot arrest people inside a courthouse for most immigration violations.
Of course, many of these situations are very complicated and different for each person. If you have a hearing soon and are worried about ICE, please contact us and ask to arrange a consultation.