Washington, D.C. – Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today joined Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and ten other senators in introducing 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 is based on an amendment that Blumenthal included in the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in 2013.
“Immigration enforcement actions at schools, courthouses, churches, hospitals and other sensitive locations create a climate of fear that affects the entire community. I am especially appalled by reports that ICE agents stalking the hallways of courthouses have frightened women suffering from domestic abuse away from reporting their abusers or seeking relief through our justice system. We should focus law enforcement resources on real threats to public safety, not schoolchildren, church parishioners, or pregnant mothers who are going to see the doctor,” said Blumenthal.
“Schools, hospitals, churches, and courthouses should be places where everyone – regardless of immigration status – feels safe, and that cannot happen if those places become targets for immigration enforcement actions,” Warren said. “By preventing immigration agents from targeting sensitive locations unless the public’s safety is at risk, this bill helps focus immigration enforcement on deporting dangerous criminals, not undermining the values that help our communities thrive.”
Today’s legislation is also co-sponsored by Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
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 certainty that their rights will be respected.
“We’ve already seen the pain caused by the enforcement operation in Virginia when immigration agents waited across the street from a church in Fairfax County that was serving as a hypothermia shelter and detained several men,” Kaine said. “When I visited the Rising Hope Church last month, Reverend Kincannon shared with me the fear that this Administration’s policies have created among communities who should feel safe and supported in places vital to every community, like churches, schools, hospitals, and courthouses. This bill helps ensure that our enforcement agencies follow humane policies that balance legitimate enforcement operations without alienating vulnerable communities by driving them deeper into the shadows.”
“We are a nation founded by immigrants, and this Administration’s targeting of facilities that provide public health, public safety and public education run contrary to our values,” said 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.”
“Federal officials trampling on decency and common sense so they can barrel into churches, hospitals and other sensitive places to hunt for people does nothing to make America safer,” said Wyden. “This legislation is urgent business because it would prevent the administration’s misguided and malicious approach to law enforcement and ensure that people are not afraid to go to the doctor, to send their children to school or attend a place of worship.”