DHS Under Pressure Over Alleged Violation Of Policies On Sensitive Locations
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Last month, we told you a story about an undocumented couple apprehended by border patrol in a South Texas hospital. It happened while their infant son awaited a serious operation. Since NPR's piece aired, Democrats in Congress have blasted federal immigration agents, saying they are violating their own policy by making arrests at hospitals, schools and churches. NPR's John Burnett has this follow-up.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Immigration agents are prohibited from taking enforcement actions in or near so-called sensitive locations unless there's a threat that involves national security, terrorism or public safety. Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, along with 19 other senators are asking why federal agents are creeping into these once-sacrosanct zones for routine, low-level arrests.
RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: These policies long accepted by ICE and the Border Patrol forbid them from abusively going into these sensitive locations where people are supposed to feel safe. I want them to obey that policy.
BURNETT: The senators sent a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, as did 84 House Democrats. They're demanding answers, including whether the department ever investigates violations of its own Sensitive Locations policy.
This all started in May. Border Patrol agents escorted an ambulance past an immigration checkpoint. It was carrying an undocumented couple, Irma Quinones and Oscar Sanchez, and their 2-month-old Isaac to a children's hospital in Corpus Christi. The infant needed an emergency stomach operation. But before the procedure could be performed, the agents took the parents one by one down to the station to be arrested and booked.
IRMA QUINONES: (Speaking Spanish).
BURNETT: "You're thinking about the health of your baby," says Irma Quinones, "but you're worrying, are they going to take me away?" The Border Patrol says its agents acted responsibly to ensure the well-being of the child while performing the law enforcement duties required by law. Critics are calling the South Texas hospital episode a blatant violation of the Sensitive Locations policy, saying the couple posed no threat to public safety. They have no criminal violations other than 12-year-old visa overstays. Again, Senator Blumenthal.
BLUMENTHAL: I was appalled at the idea of these Border Patrol agents stalking a hospital hallway. And that creates a climate of fear that will discourage undocumented families who need medical attention.
BURNETT: Congressional critics point to a growing pattern of violating the spirit of the sensitive locations policy. Other incidents in the last year include apprehending a father after he dropped off his daughter at school, a victim of domestic violence picked up at a courthouse and a group of immigrants arrested after they left a church shelter. Several Democrats have proposed legislation that would codify protected places in federal law, but the measure will be a tough sell in a Republican-controlled Congress where the administration is generally applauded for its aggressive immigration crackdown. John Burnett, NPR News.
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