Wyden, Merkley seek to block immigration action in ‘sensitive’ places

WASHINGTON – Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced legislation Wednesday to block immigration agents from stalking 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 can have access to education, criminal justice and social services without fear of deportation.

“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,” Wyden said. “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.”

“The administration’s reckless approach to immigration enforcement erodes the trust that our law enforcement officers, health care organizations, schools and other public agencies have worked to build with Oregon’s immigrant communities,” Merkley said. “This legislation would ensure that vulnerable populations — domestic violence survivors, school children, and seniors — would feel safe accessing fundamental services in their own communities.”

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.

The legislation introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is also co-sponsored by Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Al Franken (D-MN), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The legislation is based on an amendment that Blumenthal included in the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in 2013.