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Am I safe if I seek sanctuary in a church?

If your status in the U.S. is in question, you may have more reasons to fear than ever before. Maybe your visa expired, and you have not taken the steps to renew it. Perhaps police have accused you of a crime that is a removable offense. Possibly, you were not in the country lawfully to begin with.

No matter your situation, with the latest changes in immigration policies and the promise of more stringent laws to come, you have reason to be concerned about your future. You may have seen stories on the news of families and individuals who have taken shelter in local churches as a way of seeking sanctuary from government officials who want to deport them. Is this a viable option for you?

Am I outside the reach of ICE agents?

While there is no immigration law that prohibits police or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from entering a church to arrest someone who is unlawfully present or wanted for a crime, the general policy of ICE is to avoid such arrests in places known as "sensitive locations," such as the following:

  • Houses of worship
  • Schools, including high schools and college campuses
  • Times and areas where children may be present, such as bus stops
  • Medical facilities
  • Funerals, weddings and other ceremonies
  • Public demonstrations, such as parades or rallies

Nevertheless, in certain circumstances, ICE will go against this policy. It is important to know that ICE agents do not consider court houses to be sensitive locations. Despite media reports that ICE agents have only recently begun arresting those who are unlawfully present in the U.S. at courthouses and in sensitive locations, the agency has routinely made such arrests, but usually when the subject has criminal convictions or is a threat to the public.

What are your options?

As dramatic as it may seem to hide out in a holy place as a means of protection, there are no legal boundaries that make a house of worship off limits for ICE agents. In fact, choosing a house of worship as a place to hide from ICE may draw more attention to yourself than you intend and place the church officials in danger of prosecution for harboring someone who is unlawfully present.

If you are considering claiming the sanctuary of a Georgia church to protect yourself and your family from ICE agents, you may want to reach out to someone who can give you sound legal advice about your options.

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