Justice Denied: President Trump’s Immigration Policies Effectively Close the Courthouse Doors to Immigrants

Whatever you think about President Trump, it is undeniable that he has kept his campaign promise to stringently – and, in many cases, cruelly – enforce the immigration laws of the United States of America.  Though he has not successfully put forth any significant immigration legislation in Congress, he has stepped up – to a seemingly-exponential degree – enforcement of existing laws and rules, and has also signed several Executive Orders directing immigration officials and agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (known as “ICE”) to increase efforts to find and deport hard-working, law-abiding, though undocumented immigrants.  In following the President’s orders, ICE has undertaken extremely-unsavory – nay, un-American – tactics in an effort to catch, process and deport undocumented immigrants in New York and all over the United States.

Among these distasteful methods of furthering President Trump’s agenda to deport more undocumented immigrants involves conducting raids and searches at courthouses across New York State, catching undocumented immigrants as they attempt to comply with our laws, respond to legal process, or seek justice to which they are entitled.  This tactic deprives the undocumented from vindicating their legal rights – yes, the undocumented do have a substantial number of legal rights and do have access to our courts – and puts the undocumented at risk of suffering inhuman and un-American abuses without the possibility of the legal recourse to which they are entitled.

To understand why, in addition to the obvious reasons, this tactic by ICE of arresting undocumented immigrants at New York courthouses is so distasteful, one must understand some of the rights that the undocumented do enjoy while they are here in our State.  Because we focus on personal injury and medical malpractice in our law practice, we will focus this article on the rights of the undocumented to bring medical malpractice and personal injury lawsuits in the courts of the State of New York, as well as the Federal courts located in New York State.

As a general rule, undocumented immigrants have exactly the same rights to compensation under New York law if they are the victims of personal injury accidents or medical malpractice as do any United States citizen.  However, because many undocumented immigrants are ineligible to receive certain public benefits such as Medicare and Medicaid, access to necessary medical treatment (which not only is beneficial for obvious health-related reasons, but which also is beneficial as it permits an injured victim to properly document their injuries for purposes of their lawsuit) may be unavailable.  If, on the other hand, an undocumented immigrant is injured while on the job, they are generally entitled to collect workers’ compensation benefits (including both lost wages protection and medical benefits); and, furthermore, if an undocumented immigrant is injured in an car accident or truck accident, no-fault insurance benefits are also available to the injured undocumented immigrant (including both the lost wages and medical benefits provided for under standard no-fault insurance benefits).  Finally, as many undocumented immigrants fear advising the government of their presence, they do not pay taxes or otherwise work “off the books”; and, thus, proving that their injuries have subjected them to lost wages is often impossible as a practical matter.

By conducting un-American raids and roundups on the courthouse steps, ICE has dissuaded many undocumented immigrants from seeking vindication of their legal rights if they are the victims of personal injury accidents or medical malpractice.  The right to seek redress in Court for wrongs is fundamental to American life.  Depriving anyone of the ability to exercise this right is an unforgivable perversion of the American way of life, and every day it continues undermines the American justice system, the rights of those who come here seeking a better life, and our very way of American life.