Immigration Law

Expert: ICE 'Sensitive Locations' Label 'Largely Symbolic'

Tim Henderson, Governing, May 10, 2017 - "[A]n ICE policy, held over from the Obama administration, ... discourages raids in what the agency calls “sensitive locations” including churches, hospitals, schools and college campuses, without a supervisor’s approval.

While there have been no recent reports of immigration agents making arrests in churches or schools, some arrests have been made nearby. In February, a man was arrested after taking his daughter to school in Los Angeles, several men were arrested after leaving a church homeless shelter in Fairfax County, Virginia, and a woman released from ICE custody for hospital treatment in Texas was put back in detention while awaiting surgery, though she was later released.

In Rhode Island, Barros said people in the small city of Central Falls have sometimes been afraid to go out when they hear that ICE agents are around — whether it’s real news or “radio pasillo,” the grapevine or rumor mill among South American immigrants in the town.

“The uneasiness comes from the idea that, what if I take my kids to school or a doctor’s appointment and I get arrested? Who’s going to take care of the kids?” Barros said.

Bennett, the ICE spokeswoman, said the agency’s policy against routine enforcement in sensitive locations remains. But, she said, ICE sometimes makes deportation arrests at courthouses, which are considered relatively safe because visitors are screened for weapons before entering.

Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School, said local laws about sensitive locations, like many sanctuary policies, have little legal weight.

“They’re largely symbolic. There’s nothing to prevent ICE from waiting on the courthouse steps or in public areas to arrest somebody if they want to,” Yale-Loehr said. Only federal legislation, like that proposed in the House and Senate, could regulate how ICE is allowed to operate, he said.

Capps agreed. He said ICE isn’t likely to start going into churches and schools, but agents are starting to push the envelope. “I don’t know how any state or locality can stop them from setting up on a public street outside a church or outside a school, watching people drop their kids off,” he said."