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FAQs: Protected Areas and Courthouse Arrests

Protected Areas

What does the Department of Homeland Security mean by the term “protected area”?

A “protected area” is a location that, based on the essential services or activities that occur there, is generally protected from enforcement actions by ICE and CBP. The policy provides a non-exhaustive list of protected areas based on the types of activities that take place there, the importance of those activities to the well-being of people and the communities of which they are a part, and the impact that an enforcement action by ICE or CBP would have on people’s willingness to be there and receive or engage in the essential services or activities that occur there.

Some examples of protected areas include:

  • A school, such as a pre-school, primary or secondary school, vocational or trade school, or college or university.
  • A medical or mental healthcare facility, such as a hospital, doctor’s office, health clinic, vaccination or testing site, urgent care center, site that serves pregnant individuals, or community health center.
  • A place of worship or religious study, whether in a structure dedicated to activities of faith (such as a church or religious school) or a temporary facility or location where such activities are taking place.
  • A place where children gather, such as a playground, recreation center, childcare center, before- or after-school care center, foster care facility, group home for children, or school bus stop.
  • A social services establishment, such as a crisis center, domestic violence shelter, victims services center, child advocacy center, supervised visitation center, family justice center, community-based organization, facility that serves disabled persons, homeless shelter, drug or alcohol counseling and treatment facility, or food bank or pantry or other establishment distributing food or other essentials of life to people in need.
  • A place where disaster or emergency response and relief is being provided, such as along evacuation routes, where shelter or emergency supplies, food, or water are being distributed, or registration for disaster-related assistance or family reunification is underway.
  • A place where a funeral, graveside ceremony, rosary, wedding, or other religious or civil ceremonies or observances occur.
  • A place where there is an ongoing parade, demonstration, or rally.

What is an enforcement action?

Enforcement actions by ICE or CBP covered by this policy include, but are not limited to, arrests, civil apprehensions, searches, inspections, seizures, service of charging documents or subpoenas, interviews, and immigration enforcement surveillance.

This guidance does not apply to matters in which enforcement activity is not contemplated. This includes activities such as obtaining records, documents, and similar materials from officials or employees, providing notice to officials or employees, serving subpoenas, engaging in Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) compliance and certification visits, guarding or securing detained persons, or participating in official functions or community meetings.

This policy also does not apply to controlled deliveries that conclude in close proximity to a protected area, enforcement actions conducted at DHS facilities or offices regardless of location, or operations that are for the health or welfare of an individual in DHS custody, such as transport to or custodial monitoring at a hospital or medical office.

How is this different from previous sensitive location memos? What is new?

For the first time, DHS will have one single coherent policy to guide enforcement actions by ICE and CBP in or near protected areas.

The change in name, from “sensitive locations” to “protected areas,” is to provide a more precise understanding that certain areas are inherently in need of special consideration. Rather than only being “sensitive” they rise to a level of being protected because of the functions performed in such locations and the people those facilities serve, such as children, survivors of domestic violence, and worshippers.

This memo provides greater clarity on what types of locations are protected areas and which kinds of enforcement actions should generally be avoided there and guides the workforce in the exercise of judgment to determine what additional areas should be protected.

Will enforcement actions ever occur in or near protected areas?

Enforcement actions may occur in or near protected areas in limited circumstances but will generally be avoided.

The following are some examples of limited circumstances under which an enforcement action may need to be taken in or near a protected area:

  • The enforcement action involves a national security threat.
  • There is an imminent risk of death, violence, or physical harm to a person.
  • The enforcement action involves the hot pursuit of an individual who poses a public safety threat.
  • The enforcement action involves the hot pursuit of a personally observed border-crosser.
  • There is an imminent risk that evidence material to a criminal case will be destroyed.
  • A safe alternative location does not exist.

When may an enforcement action be carried out in or near a protected area without prior approval?

Absent exigent circumstances, an Agent or Officer must seek prior approval from their Agency’s headquarters, before taking an enforcement action in or near a protected area.

Even when exigent circumstances exist, to the fullest extent possible, any enforcement action in or near a protected area should be taken in a non-public area, outside of public view, and be otherwise conducted to eliminate or at least minimize the chance that the enforcement action will restrain people from accessing the protected area.

Are protected areas located along international borders also protected?

Protected areas located along the borders are generally protected from enforcement actions, similar to protected areas further from the borders. However, an enforcement action in or near a protected area that involves the hot pursuit of a personally observed border crosser is permitted.

As a practical matter, ports of entry and Border Patrol stations are not in or near protected areas; therefore, enforcement actions would presumptively proceed as normal and not be impacted by the protected areas policy.

Are courthouses protected areas?

Courthouses do not fall under ICE or CBP’s previous policies concerning enforcement actions at or focused on sensitive locations, nor do they fall within the protected areas memorandum issued today. However, the April 27, 2021, Memorandum from Tae Johnson, ICE Acting Director, and Troy Miller, CBP Acting Commissioner, entitled “Civil Immigration Enforcement Actions in or Near Courthouses” remains in effect. Enforcement actions at courthouses will only be executed in limited circumstances against individuals falling within the public safety priorities of DHS’s civil immigration enforcement priorities. Such enforcement actions will, absent exigent circumstances, not lead to arrest of non-targeted individuals and will, wherever practicable, take place outside of public areas of the courthouse.

Where should I report a DHS enforcement action that I believe may be inconsistent with these policies?

There are a number of locations where an individual may lodge a complaint about a particular DHS enforcement action that may have taken place in violation of the protected areas policy. You may find information about these locations, and information about how to file a complaint, on the DHS, CBP, or ICE websites.

You may contact ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) through the Detention Reporting and Information Line at (888) 351-4024 or through the ERO information email address at ERO.INFO@ice.dhs.gov, also available at https://www.ice.gov/webform/ero-contact-form.

You may contact the CBP Information Center to file a complaint or compliment via phone at (877) 227-5511, or submit an email through the website at https://help.cbp.gov.

You may contact the Office of the Inspector General at www.oig.dhs.gov/ and (800) 323-8603 and the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at CRCLCompliance@hq.dhs.gov or (866) 644-8360.

Courthouse Arrests

Why has ICE issued a policy on civil immigration enforcement inside courthouses?

To uphold the rule of law, ICE must ensure that this country’s courthouse doors are open to all people, regardless of their citizenship. There are many reasons why an individual, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, might want or need to visit a courthouse, including but not limited to participating in child custody determinations, obtaining a protective order, serving as a witness, participating in a lawsuit to protect constitutional or legal rights, and paying a fine.

Targeted civil immigration enforcement operations in or near courthouses are sometimes necessary and appropriate. This includes enforcement actions involving, for example, noncitizens who are engaged in or are suspected of terrorism or otherwise pose a danger to national security or who pose an imminent threat to public safety.

Why did DHS issue interim policy? When will a final policy on courthouse enforcement be issued?

It is a DHS priority to release a final policy as soon as possible. Pursuant to the January 20, 2021, memorandum by Acting Secretary David Pekoske titled “Review of and Interim Revision to Civil Immigration Enforcement and Removal Policies and Priorities,” DHS is currently conducting a full review of its immigration enforcement policies and priorities. When additional guidance is issued, the Department and its components will review the interim policy, along with the ICE sensitive locations policies, to release updated guidance.

When will ICE personnel conduct courthouse enforcement?

A civil immigration enforcement action in or near courthouses will be executed only in the limited circumstance when: (1) it involves a national security threat; (2) there is an imminent risk of death, violence, or physical harm to any person; (3) it involves pursuit of an individual who poses a threat to public safety; or (4) there is an imminent risk of destruction of evidence material to a criminal case.

Civil immigration enforcement action may be taken against an individual who poses a threat to public safety when a safe alternative location for such action does not exist or would be too difficult to achieve and the action has been approved in advance by a Field Office Director, Special Agent in Charge.

ICE may continue to conduct criminal immigration enforcement actions in or near courthouses.

In addition, the policy does not apply to arrests that occur in jails connected to courthouses where the individual arrested is being released from the custody of state, local, or federal law enforcement partners at the conclusion of any criminal sentence. This policy does not preclude arrests conducted at ICE facilities regardless of their location.

When civil immigration enforcement in or near a courthouse does occur, will there be any additional limitations?

To the fullest extent possible, civil immigration enforcement action in a courthouse will be taken in a non-public area, outside of public view, be conducted in collaboration with courthouse security personnel, utilize the courthouse’s non-public entrances and exits, and be conducted at the conclusion of the judicial proceeding that brought the individual to the courthouse.

Additionally, all civil immigration enforcement actions planned or carried out in or near a courthouse must be documented in a searchable and validated electronic system of records. Monthly reports will be provided to the DHS Secretary and, upon request, to the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

What is a civil immigration enforcement action?

Civil immigration enforcement actions include civil apprehensions, service of subpoenas, searches, seizures, interviews, and surveillance. Actions not covered by this policy include activities such as collecting records from court offices or participation in community meetings held in the courthouse.

How will ICE determine if someone poses a threat to public safety?

In determining whether someone poses a threat to public safety, ICE personnel will follow the interim guidance issued by ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson on February 18, 2021, titled, “Interim Guidance: Civil Immigration Enforcement and Removal Priorities.”

What does it mean to be “near” a courthouse?

“Near” the courthouse means in the close vicinity of the courthouse, including the entrance and exit of a courthouse, and in adjoining or related areas such as an adjacent parking lot or transportation point (such as a bus stop right outside a courthouse). It does not include adjacent buildings or houses that are not part of the courthouse or otherwise are not used for court-related business.

What is a “safe alternative location”?

A “safe alternative location for such action” means one that is safe for ICE personnel, the subject of the enforcement action, and the public.

Will ICE employees be trained on this policy?

Each Field Office Director and Special Agent in Charge, must ensure that all employees under his or her supervision are trained annually on this policy and that such training is documented and reviewed by agency counsel.

Updated: 10/28/2021