April 05, 2017

Sen. Harris and Senate Democrats Introduce Bill to Block Immigration Enforcement at Sensitive Locations

Increased ICE presence at schools, courthouses, churches,

and hospitals foments fear and deters immigrants from receiving

an education, reporting domestic abuse and other crimes,

and seeking social services

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris, a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, joined Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and ten other Senators to introduce legislation to prevent immigration enforcement officers from taking enforcement actions at sensitive locations like schools, hospitals, and religious institutions without prior approval and exigent circumstances. The Protecting Sensitive Locations Act codifies the Department of Homeland Security's existing policies and expands on those policies to ensure that immigrants are able to access education, criminal justice, and social services without fear of deportation. Today's legislation follows Senator Harris questioning Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly at a committee hearing this morning on exempting witnesses and victims of crimes from being arrested by ICE agents outside of courthouses.

"We are a nation founded by immigrants, and this Administration's targeting of facilities that provide public health, public safety and public education runs contrary to our values," said Senator Harris. "In California and throughout this country, immigrants and their families live in fear. Children don't want to go the school because they are afraid their father or their mother will be detained while they're gone. Children are missing doctors' appointments out of fear they or their parents will be exposed and reported to ICE. We also know that immigrants have become less likely to report crimes for fear of deportation. We must act to ensure that the schools, hospitals, courthouses, and churches in our communities are safe areas - not places of fear."

Today's legislation is co-sponsored by Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Al Franken (D-MN), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

According to recent reports, immigration enforcement agencies have increased their presence at schools, courthouses, homeless shelters, and hospitals. A few of the reported cases include:

  • In March, a father in Highland Park, Los Angeles was apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents while dropping his children off at school.
  • In March, NPR reported that domestic violence cases were being dropped due to a fear of encountering ICE agents at the courthouse. In February, a woman was apprehended by ICE after being awarded a protective order for domestic abuse. In response to these and other incidents, judges in Washington and California wrote ICE asking the agency to stop "stalking undocumented immigrants" in the states' courthouses.
  • In February, ICE agents staked out a church's homeless shelter in Alexandria, Virginia.
  • In February, ICE agents in Fort Worth, Texas apprehended a mother with a brain tumor at a hospital.

The Protecting Sensitive Locations Act requires that, except in special circumstances, ICE agents receive prior approval from a supervisor when there are exigent circumstances before engaging in enforcement actions at sensitive locations, such as: schools, hospitals and health clinics, places of worship, organizations assisting crime victims, and organizations that provide services to children, pregnant women, victims of crime or abuse, or individuals with mental or physical disabilities. The legislation also requires that ICE agents receive annual training and report annually regarding enforcement actions in these locations.

This bill codifies and expands upon rules already in place at ICE, which would provide policy consistency across enforcement agencies and administrations over time, giving immigrant communities greater certainty that their rights will be respected.