House Democrats are sponsoring a bill to bar immigration agents from arresting illegal immigrants marked for deportation at “sensitive” locations, including all federal, state and local courthouses.
The Protecting Sensitive Locations Act, introduced last week by representatives from Oregon, Virginia, and New York, would make internal Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrest guidelines into a federal law. The measure would further limit where ICE agents can carry out arrests of illegal immigrants identified for removal.
Existing ICE policy designates schools, hospitals, places of worship, and public rallies as sensitive locations, where arrests should only take place under exigent circumstances or after agents have exhausted all other options to apprehend a suspect. The new measure from Democrats seeks to expand that list by including, among other locations, bus stops with children, public assistance offices, and every courthouse in the country, The Washington Post reported.
“Our communities are better and safer if all residents feel secure when accessing justice, seeking education and health care, or practicing their faith,” Democrat Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, one of the bill’s sponsors, said during a roundtable discussion about the proposal. “Recent ICE action targeting immigrants has been aggressive and mean-spirited, and it does not improve the safety of our communities.”
Bonamici’s bill comes in response to a series of enforcement operations conducted by ICE in March. Many of the arrests took place in state courthouses in Oregon, California and Texas, drawing protest from officials and activists who said the presence of ICE agents scares illegal immigrants away from testifying in criminal cases or reporting domestic violence crimes.
In March, California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye wrote a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly accusing ICE agents of “stalking” illegal immigrants. Cantil-Sakauye, Washington State Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst and other state-level judicial officers have asked federal authorities to stop immigration arrests at courthouses.
ICE says it considers several factors when deciding where to make an arrest, including whether authorities have an address for the person they are seeking and the safety of officers and members of the community. Immigration agents see courthouses as a safe option, because targets must pass through security screening to enter the building.
“While ICE does arrest targets at courthouses, generally it’s only after investigating officers have exhausted other options,” ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice told the Associated Press in response to Cantil-Sakayue’s letter.