The story of a young girl facing possible deportation after being apprehended by border patrol agents while she was on her way to a hospital to undergo surgery has raised questions about the so-called sensitive locations where immigration-based arrests are not generally conducted.
Sensitive locations refer to areas that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has restricted immigration enforcement actions except in three situations:
- If there are exigent circumstances;
- The immigration officials are led to the sensitive location through other law enforcement investigations; or,
- The immigration officials have prior approval to conduct the enforcement actions from a designated supervisory official.
In some cases, arrests and other enforcement actions can take place in a sensitive location as long as there is a prior agreement between the undocumented immigrant and immigration enforcement agents. For example, when an undocumented immigrant surrenders to immigration agents at a hospital or church.
Sensitive locations include hospitals, schools, daycare centers, rallies or demonstrations, and places of religious worship. Courthouses are not considered sensitive locations. The designation of these areas as sensitive areas is supposed to encourage people to seek the services offered at these locations without fear of deportation. It is also important to note that sensitive locations that are located near a border are treated differently. Sensitive locations near borders are afforded less protection that those away from borders, although immigration officers are supposed to use common sense in taking action in these areas so as to act within the spirit of the policy.
The young girl mentioned above was detained after being stopped at an immigration check point on her way to the hospital as opposed to being detained at the hospital. Therefore, and immigration officials argue that this distinguishes her from someone who would be arrested at a hospital after going there to seek treatment. While this seems like a hollow distinction, because the policy of not making arrests in sensitive locations is a government agency policy and not a law, there are few ways to challenge its application unless the agency failed to follow its own policies.
Because of deportation priorities, immigration agents do have some discretion when it comes to whom to detain and place in immigration proceedings, and this determination can be made on a case by case basis. In the past, undocumented immigrants who were convicted of crimes were priority targets for deportation. The priorities are less clear now.
Undocumented immigrants who need to go to sensitive locations for services should not rely on the designations of these spaces as sensitive spaces. Being improperly apprehended at a sensitive location is not a defense that will necessarily stop an undocumented immigrant from being deported.
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If your family member has been detained pending deportation proceedings, you need an experienced immigration attorney to present your best case before the immigration judge. For legal assistance with seeking a change in your immigration status, contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to experienced immigration attorney Nathan Wei from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP, in Pasadena, California for a consultation.