Judicial official let illegal immigrant elude agents, says Oregon's top federal prosecutor

The U.S. attorney for Oregon last week briefed more than a dozen Multnomah County judges about a judicial referee who apparently helped an illegal immigrant elude federal immigration agents waiting for him outside of a courtroom. The incident took place Jan....

Judicial official let illegal immigrant elude agents, says Oregon's top federal prosecutor

The U.S. attorney for Oregon last week briefed more than a dozen Multnomah County judges about a judicial referee who apparently helped an illegal immigrant elude federal immigration agents waiting for him outside of a courtroom.

The incident took place Jan. 27 at the county Justice Center -- the same day President Donald Trump signed an executive order on immigration, said U.S. Attorney Billy Williams.

He said two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents used "public sources" to track the whereabouts of someone in the country illegally who was being arraigned on an impaired driving accusation.

He said the federal government has long viewed illegal immigrants facing impaired driving accusations and other charges a priority for deportation.

Williams said the agents waited outside of the courtroom for the man to emerge after the hearing.

"They were waiting and waiting," he said. The agents asked the person's defense lawyer when the man would come out.

"He said something to the effect of: 'He will be coming out soon.' Well, that never happened," Williams said.

"The man exited the courtroom through a side door and found his way out of the building," he said.

Williams declined to identify the referee and said the incident was referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as the U.S. Department of Justice.

Referees are judicial officers who have the same authority as circuit judges. They typically preside over small claims matters, as well as landlord and tenant issues, civil commitments and traffic arraignments.

Both federal agencies declined to pursue a criminal investigation or a complaint to the Oregon State Bar. Williams said he asked for a meeting with Multnomah County judges about what happened to prevent it from happening again.

"I found it to be troubling," he said. "We are all officers of the court and we all take an oath to follow the law."

Judge Nan Waller, Multnomah County Circuit Court's presiding judge, late Monday said the incident is the subject of an internal review. She declined to comment further.

She said even before she learned about it she sent an email to court staffers advising them that they can't facilitate or impede the work of federal immigration agents. Her priority, she said, is ensuring people feel comfortable coming to court.

"The courts have a responsibility to try to make sure there is good access to the courthouse and we have encouraged ICE to view the courthouse as a sensitive location," she said.

The issue of federal immigration enforcement actions at the courthouse is a highly controversial one. Late last month, an ICE spokeswoman said the agency has no new emphasis on arrests since Trump took office, but that assurance has done little to ease fear at courthouses in the Portland area.

-- Noelle Crombie

ncrombie@oregonian.com

503-276-7184; @noellecrombie

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