By Del Quentin Wilber

The Trump administration on Friday fired back at California's top judge, disputing her characterization that federal immigration agents were "stalking" courthouses to make arrests.

In a letter to Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, leaders of Trump's Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security called her description of federal agents' conduct "troubling."

They said agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were using courthouses to arrest immigrants in the U.S. illegally, in part, because California and some of its local jurisdictions prohibit their officials from cooperating with federal agencies in detaining such immigrants under most conditions.

Even for individuals already in local police custody, such policies may make it necessary for agents to make arrests in public places, rather than in jails, they said. By apprehending suspects after they have passed through security screening at courthouses, federal agents are less likely to encounter anyone who is armed, they added.

"The arrest of individuals by ICE officers and agents is predicated on investigation and targeting of specific persons who have been identified by ICE and other law enforcement agencies as subject to arrest," wrote Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

Cantil-Sakauye had asked the Trump administration on March 16 to stop immigration agents from seeking immigrants at the state's courthouses.

"Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country's immigration laws," she wrote in a letter to Sessions and Kelly.

Her letter did not say which courthouses had been the location of such "stalking," but judges and lawyers in Southern California have complained of seeing immigration agents posted near courts.

She said she feared the practice would erode public trust in the state courts.

Sessions and Kelly urged Cantil-Sakauye to speak to California Gov. Jerry Brown and other officials "who have enacted policies that occasionally necessitate ICE officers and agents to make arrests at courthouses and other public places."

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