In recent years, you may have heard news stories about people hiding in churches due to fear of immigration agents and deportation. That is because many places of worship have become sanctuaries for individuals and families who feel threatened by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). And, in general, churches are considered to be “sensitive locations” that ICE may be reluctant to enter for immigration enforcement.
However, if you or a family member is thinking about seeking refuge from ICE in a church, it is important to understand your full range of options. To learn as much as you can, speak with an immigration attorney with experience in challenging detention, deportation and removal proceedings.
How does a ‘sensitive location’ protect me?
As a general rule, ICE agents do not carry out enforcement actions at sensitive locations. According to the agency, sensitive locations include churches, synagogues, mosques and other sacred places. Schools, daycare facilities, hospitals and other medical facilities are also considered by ICE to be sensitive locations. Additionally, if you are at ceremonies like weddings or funerals, or events like public observances or rallies, ICE generally considers these to be sensitive locations. However, courthouses are not sensitive locations by ICE standards.
Although ICE agents generally honor the policy of avoiding immigration enforcement actions in these places, there are exceptions. For example, even the sanctuary of a church may be entered by ICE agents in the following situations:
- Agents suspect you have just crossed the border into Texas and are in the immediate vicinity.
- A supervisory ICE agent approves the enforcement action.
- The investigations of other law enforcement agencies have led ICE agents to the sensitive location.
- Agents believe you or others in the location may pose a danger to national security or public safety.
- Police fear there is risk of destruction of critical evidence in an ongoing criminal investigation, unless enforcement action takes place.
The government urges ICE agents to be prudent and use good judgment in these situations but does not forbid agents from taking necessary immigration enforcement action just because you may be in a sensitive location. Whatever your particular situation may be, there is no substitute for legal guidance from an experienced immigration attorney who can explain your full range of options for avoiding detention or deportation.