By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The chief justice of California's Supreme Court on Thursday asked the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to prevent immigration agents from arresting undocumented immigrants inside the state's courthouses.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said she was gravely troubled by recent reports that federal agents were "stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests," in a letter addressed to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.
"Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country's immigration law," Cantil-Sakauye wrote.
Trump has vowed to increase deportations and has widened the net of illegal immigrants prioritized for detention and removal.
"We will review the letter and have no further comment at this time," Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said in an email.
Immigrant rights groups say federal agents have entered courthouses with increased frequency this year, including in California, Massachusetts, Maryland and Texas, said National Immigration Law Center staff attorney Melissa Keaney.
"It's definitely an issue we're seeing a tremendous increase in under the new administration," Keaney said by phone on Thursday.
Reuters could not independently confirm whether there has been an uptick in arrests at courthouses.
Cantil-Sakauye stopped short of questioning the legal right of federal agents to enter courthouses to locate and detain unauthorized immigrants.
Her letter said the presence of immigration agents in California courthouses could undermine "public trust and confidence in our state court system," which serves "millions of the most vulnerable Californians."
It could also discourage even legal immigrants from seeking justice, said Cathal Conneely, a spokesman for the Judicial Council of California, a branch of state courts.
Green-card holders, those who are permanent U.S. residents but not citizens, already leery of the justice system because of experiences in their countries of origin could be further dissuaded from entering courthouses, he said.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Patrick Enright and Leslie Adler)