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Is hiding in a church the best way to avoid deportation?

Anyone who faces criminal charges has a lot at risk. A conviction for certain crimes can mean spending time in jail separated from your family, paying fines that can create financial hardships and dealing with other penalties that may cause struggle for the foreseeable future. However, if you are an immigrant to the U.S., you have additional reasons to fear criminal charges, since they may result in your deportation.

Whether you are facing deportation because of criminal charges or because of your unlawful status in the country, you may be willing to try anything to remain in the U.S., especially if you have built a life here. If you have heard that seeking sanctuary in a church is one way to remain safe from deportation, you may want to learn the facts about the policies of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

How safe are sensitive locations?

Churches and other places of worship are one example of what ICE calls "sensitive locations." Others include schools, hospitals and places where ceremonies such as funerals are taking place. Some church leaders have gained public attention by welcoming those who are trying to avoid deportation for whatever reason, and you may feel you would be safe by seeking the same kind of protection.

However, just because you hide in a place that is a sensitive location does not necessarily mean ICE agents cannot enter and arrest you. ICE's policy is to avoid disturbing the peace of a sensitive location or violating the trust of the public by entering places that provide important services. Nevertheless, agents will take enforcement action in a sensitive location under certain circumstances, including:

  • ICE supervisors have authorized the action.
  • The situation is a matter of national security or involves a terroristic threat.
  • Those inside the sensitive location are placing the public safety at risk.
  • ICE agents suspect those in the location are destroying evidence necessary for an ongoing criminal investigation.
  • Other law enforcement agencies are conducting an operation at the same location.

You should note that court houses in Mississippi are not on the list of sensitive locations, although some states require court house officials to refuse admittance to ICE agents on enforcement missions. If you are concerned that criminal charges or other circumstances place you at risk of deportation, seeking sanctuary in a church may not be the most effective way to deal with the problem. Instead, you may benefit from learning about your options from a legal professional with experience in immigration law.

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