Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is empowered to identify and apprehend people who do not have permission to be in the United States. There is no sure “safe” place where ICE is prohibited from carrying out enforcement operations (such as arrests, interviews, and searches). However, in 2011, ICE implemented a policy that states that it will not carry out enforcement operations at certain sensitive locations; except in very limited circumstances.
The locations that ICE has deemed sensitive are:
Note that ICE does not consider a courthouse to be a sensitive location. It is commonplace for ICE to arrest or stop someone outside of a courthouse or even in the courthouse itself. Many states and cities have asked ICE to stop doing this; however the practice persists. ICE does claim it tries to limit its enforcement actions in family court or small claims court.
The above policy comes with exceptions. ICE has stated that it will seek to avoid arresting or detaining people at sensitive locations unless so-called “exigent circumstances” exist. That could mean, for example, a national security, terrorist, or public safety threat, or a situation where ICE believes there is an imminent risk of destruction of evidence relevant to a criminal case.
ICE may also carry out enforcement action at sensitive locations if another law enforcement agency (such as the police) leads ICE agents to the location or provides prior approval.
Unfortunately, reports have surfaced saying that ICE and CPB (Customs and Border Protection) officials have on multiple occasions violated the sensitive locations policy by apprehending people at hospitals, schools, and places of worship.
Alleged violations include apprehending people who have sought medical treatment at hospitals; picking up a father after he dropped off his daughter at school; and arresting people who were leaving a church shelter.
Since it is possible that immigration enforcement agents may approach you in public (even if you find yourself in a so-called sensitive location), it’s important to be aware of your rights.
The U.S. constitution affords you certain rights even if you are undocumented. Try to remain calm and not panic.
You have the right to ask the ICE officer whether you are free to leave. If the officer says you are not free to leave, you have a right to remain silent. If you choose to remain silent, you should say to the officer clearly and loudly that you wish to remain silent.
You may refuse to show identity documents that say what country you are from; however, you should never lie or show false documents such as a fake green card or Social Security card.
If ICE has not arrested you, you do not have to consent to a search of your person or your belongings; however, an ICE agent who believes you have a weapon may pat you down.
If ICE arrests you and takes you into custody, you have the right to contact and speak to an attorney. You do not have to sign any papers until you speak with an attorney. The U.S. government will not pay for the attorney’s services, however.
You can also ask the immigration officer for a list of pro bono (free or low-cost) attorneys. You also have a right to contact your home country’s consulate—it may be able to offer some help, at least with minor administrative things such as locating your identity documents.