Do ‘safe zones’ really shield undocumented immigrants from deportation?


U.S. Borders and Customs Protection (CBP) recently published a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) guide on its website identifying a series of “sensitive locations,” or places where the detention of undocumented immigrants “should generally be avoided” by law enforcement.

The list stipulates that schools, places of worship, health care facilities, religious or civil ceremonies such as weddings, and public demonstrations like parades and protests are generally off limits to law officers enforcing immigration matters.

They’re not exactly safe zones where undocumented immigrants are shielded from arrest, but they’re maybe the closest thing to it.

“Enforcement actions may occur at sensitive locations in limited circumstances, but will generally be avoided. [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] ICE or CBP offices and agents may conduct an enforcement action at a sensitive location with prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official, or if the enforcement action involves exigent circumstances,” reads the CBP guide.

“Exigent circumstances,” according to the guide, are defined as “related to national security, terrorism, or public safety, or where there is imminent risk of destruction of evidence material to an ongoing criminal case.”

CBP spokeswoman Christina Coleman told Fusion the FAQ guide was posted in July to “clarify existing, long-standing guidance concerning enforcement actions.” However, she says, the policies are not new.

Coleman says CBP and ICE will continue to conduct enforcement actions “prioritizing the removal of national security, border security, and public safety threats.”

The publication of the FAQ guide came after a month-long series of deportation raids that were slammed by pro-immigration activists and NGOs.

But it doesn’t answer all questions. Activists say the FAQ guide fails to properly clarify exceptions to the sensitive locations policy.

“Unfortunately, the supplementary guidance excludes a variety of sensitive areas and fails to provide a clear framework as to when exceptions to the guidance apply. For example, this supplementary guidance still allows ICE officers to arrest students at a school bus stop if that stop is ‘unmarked’ or the officer claims they didn’t know the location was a school bus stop,” Jose Magaña-Salgado, Managing Policy Attorney for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, told Fusion.

It also fails to address the root of the problem, he says.

“Instead of band-aids, ICE and President Obama’s Administration must take measurable steps to end the incarceration of refugees fleeing horrific violence in Central America and the continued persecution of immigrant communities through Secretary Johnson’s immigration raids,” Magaña-Salgado said.

Conservative media outlets like Fox News are framing the CBP guide as official advice to undocumented immigrants on how to elude Border Patrol.

“While the explanation is apparently meant to show the difference Customs and Border Protection agents show to sensitive societal institutions, critics, including the Media Research Center, say it also tells illegal border crossers where to go if they are being pursued,” reads an article on the Fox News website.

But pro-immigration advocates say these sensitive locations don’t really stop officials from using “deceptive tactics” to detain undocumented people.

Julian Brookes, executive director for the Immigrant Defense Project, says there have been several cases of ICE agents luring people out of sensitive locations to make arrests.

“They either wait for someone to walk from a courtroom into a hallway, or we’ve seen immigration agents often lying and saying they are police, or telling the person he or she has been the victim of an identity theft to try to get them to go outside their house, or talked to relatives so they can tell the person to meet them somewhere outside,” she said.

Some ICE agents have reportedly gone as far as to arrest teens on their way to school.

Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, claims immigration agents are not only circumventing sensitive locations but also using questionable tactics to arrest undocumented people at their homes.

Graybill’s organization published a report slamming some of these tactics, included allegations of ICE agents deceiving residents by claiming to be police officers searching for an African-American suspect during an earlier round of deportation raids in January.

“These people were not hiding at all and nonetheless ICE rolled up on their house very early in the morning, scared the heck out of everybody and misrepresented what they were doing,” she said.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin