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DHS: No immunity from deportation for crime victims or witnesses

The Department of Homeland Security won't rule out apprehending illegal immigrants at courthouses who may be victims or witnesses. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said Tuesday that the department would not rule out arresting illegal immigrants who come forward to report crimes.

Taking a tougher stance on illegal immigration under the new Donald Trump administration, DHS spokesman David Lapan said that witnesses, as well as victims of crimes, who are here illegally could be criminals who pose a threat to the country. As such, they are not immune to deportation, and immigration agents may arrest them at courthouses, he said.

"Just because they’re a victim in a certain case does not mean there’s not something in their background that could cause them to be a removable alien,’’ Lapan told reporters. “Just because they’re a witness doesn’t mean they might not pose a security threat for other reasons."

Some court officials have claimed the practice of arresting illegal immigrants at courthouses when they appear in court to testify may prevent the immigrants from reporting or providing evidence of crimes. According to the Washington Post, California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye sent a letter last month to DHS Secretary John Kelly and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, saying courthouses should protect public safety and ensure access to justice.

"Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws," Cantil-Sakauye said.

Sessions and Kelly responded, arguing that arresting illegals after they have already been scanned for weapons is a much more efficient and safer process for the federal agents.

On Tuesday, Lapan added to the government's response, again leaving the door open to the possibility of arresting illegal immigrants who appear in court as crime victims or witnesses:

I can’t give a blanket statement that says every witness and victim is somehow untouchable, because they may have circumstances in their own case that would make them again subject to arrest.

He said that the factors Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents could use to determine whether to arrest someone in the country illegally “could be any number of things — again, the categories that we’ve talked about that make them subject to arrest or potential removal still apply to somebody who might him or herself be a victim.’’

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