CINCINNATI – An arrest inside a Cincinnati courthouse last week prompted a political fight over whether federal immigration police should be allowed to arrest undocumented immigrants who show up for court appearances.
Now a common pleas judge in Hamilton County, Ohio, has said that when he suspects a defendant is undocumented, he calls Immigration and Customs Enforcement himself.
Judge Robert Ruehlman told The Cincinnati Enquirer Wednesday: “They’re committing a crime by being here illegally, and then, if they’re in front of me, they’ve allegedly committed a felony.”
And how does he know someone is here illegally? If the person needs an interpreter, is accused of drug smuggling or has international connections, Ruehlman said he acts on his hunch.
“I set a high bond and I call ICE,” he said. “I’m batting a thousand. I haven’t got one wrong yet.”
Ruehlman said he calls ICE about a dozen times a year. He said he has a good relationship with the agency.
Ruehlman’s comments come after a political firestorm was ignited last week when ICE made an arrest inside the Hamilton County Courthouse.
Some assumed ICE was being tipped off by a local agency; maybe the sheriff’s office, maybe the court administration. Both denied it. No one accused judges.
Ruehlman, a Republican, presides over mostly felony-level cases in Hamilton County, Ohio, which encompasses Cincinnati. He was first elected to the bench in 1987. He was last re-elected in 2016 to a six-year term.
A local immigration rights activist questioned whether Ruehlman’s actions might scare immigrants away from reporting crime.
A presiding judge, a fellow Republican, said he doesn’t call ICE even if he suspects a defendant is here illegally.
‘I never call ICE,’ says presiding judge
ICE is barred from making arrests in certain sensitive areas, specifically churches, schools and hospitals. Some New York legislators have fought to get courthouses added to that list.
However, Ruehlman said, he thinks this argument is a “red herring.” He said even in cases that involve known illegal immigrants, ICE has worked with his court and prosecutors to allow them to testify.
Judge Charles Kubicki, the presiding and administrative judge for Common Pleas Court, said he was not aware that Ruehlman had contacted ICE, and said he’s not aware of any other judges doing it.
He said, that as far as he knows, there are no rules or laws that prevent judges from contacting immigration agents. He added there are no laws requiring judges to do it either.
Kubicki said, for him, issues of immigration are between the defendant and the federal government.
“I never call ICE,” he said. “I don’t know their number.”
He said if a person decides to plead guilty to a charge, the court is required to ask about their citizenship and inform those who aren’t citizens that their immigration status could be affected by a conviction.
Kubicki said even if a person were to admit to him then they were in the country illegally, he would feel no obligation to report them. However, he also said that he would not and has not objected to federal agents arresting someone in his court.
“It’s between him and the U.S. Marshals,” Kubicki said. “It’s the safest encounter for everyone involved.”
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