November 12, 2017

Duckworth Joins Call for Investigations into Reported Violations of Immigration Enforcement at Sensitive Locations


[WASHINGTON, DC] - Following reports that a young girl with cerebral palsy was detained on her way to receive surgery, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) joined Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and 12 other senators today in calling for an investigation into ongoing violations of federal policies regarding immigration enforcement at sensitive locations like schools, hospitals and religious institutions. Senator Duckworth has been outspoken about the harmful effects of invasive U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) enforcement actions in personal spaces like schools, churches and hospitals.

"If these reports are accurate, these actions are not only horrifying-they are also an egregious violation of established Department policy," the Senators wrote. "We ask that the Department launch an investigation into possible violations of the sensitive locations policy."

The Senators' letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke and Acting Customs and Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan details the reported detention of a 10-year-old girl who was stopped by immigration authorities on her way to the hospital for gallbladder surgery. Armed agents later arrested her directly from her hospital bed as she was recovering from the surgery. Last month, following a National Public Radio report on the parents of a two-month-old baby who were apprehended at a hospital while seeking lifesaving medical care for their son, Duckworth and a group of 20 Senators wrote Duke to seek answers about the Department's current immigration enforcement policies. The Senators have not yet received a response to their inquiry.

The ICE and CBP sensitive locations policies state that enforcement actions at sensitive locations should be avoided whenever possible and require either exigent circumstances or prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official. Last year, federal agents arrested an undocumented immigrant after luring him out of a church service in Schaumburg, Illinois. Duckworth raised concerns at the time of the incident and continues her work today to ensure DHS does not violate ICE and CBP sensitive locations policies. Today's letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tom Udall (D-NM), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Al Franken (D-MN).

The full text of the Senators' letter is available here and copied below.

November 13, 2017

The Honorable Elaine Duke
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20528

The Honorable Kevin McAleenan
Acting Commissioner
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20229

Dear Acting Secretary Duke and Acting Commissioner McAleenan:

We write to follow up on our previous inquiry regarding reports of violations of U.S. Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") policies on enforcement actions at sensitive locations.

On October 17, we wrote to share our concerns about reports of immigration enforcement agents apprehending undocumented immigrants at or near sensitive locations, such as schools, hospitals, and places of worship. As you know, these arrests run contrary to existing policy. A 2013 CBP memorandum, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Enforcement Actions at or Near Certain Community Locations, limits CBP's ability to conduct enforcement actions at or focused on a sensitive location unless exigent circumstances exist or prior approval is obtained.[1] This CBP memorandum resembles a 2011 ICE memorandum that lays out similar rules.[2]

Since our letter, a new alleged violation of the policy has come to light. On the morning of October 24, R.M.H., a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, and her cousin were on their way to Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, where R.M.H. was scheduled to receive necessary gallbladder surgery.[3] According to news reports and an October 31 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, they were stopped by Border Patrol agents at a checkpoint between their home and the hospital.[4] After questioning them for about 30 minutes, the agents notified them that R.M.H. would be processed for deportation after the surgery and began following them to the hospital. There, armed agents kept watch at the door before allegedly arresting her directly from her hospital bed. R.M.H. was detained under the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement before being released on November 3.

If these reports are accurate, these actions are not only horrifying-they are also an egregious violation of established Department policy. As you know, CBP rules bar agents from conducting an arrest inside a hospital except in an "exigent circumstance," such as when national security or public safety is threatened, or with prior written approval. According to the lawsuit, neither of those conditions were met. There were no indications that R.M.H. or others were in danger, as R.M.H.'s cousin had papers that gave her authority to transport R.M.H. to the hospital. In addition, CBP agents also reportedly did not obtain a warrant or their supervisor's approval for the arrest. When lawyers from the hospital asked them to leave, they refused to do so.

We ask that the Department launch an investigation into possible violations of the sensitive locations policy. We also ask that you respond to these questions within 30 days:

· Did the arrest of R.M.H. occur at a "sensitive location," as that term is defined in the above-referenced January 18, 2013 CBP memorandum?
· Did CBP agents seek and receive written supervisory approval to arrest R.M.H. from the Chief Patrol Agent, Director of Field Operations, Director of Air and Marine Operations, or the Internal Affairs Special Agent in Charge? If yes, which supervisors provided written approval for the arrest?
· Was there an "exigent circumstance" that necessitated R.M.H's arrest? If so, what was it?
· Did CBP agents deem that R.M.H. posed a threat to public safety? If so, what threat did she pose?
· Did CBP agents contemplate alternative measures in deciding whether and how to take custody of R.M.H.? If so, what were those alternative measures?
· Did CBP agents violate the CBP sensitive locations policy when they arrested R.M.H.?
· After reviewing R.M.H.'s arrest, do you believe that CBP should have done anything differently?
· Has the Department launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding R.M.H.'s arrest-particularly whether agents violated sensitive locations policy? If so, when will the investigation be completed?
· What disciplinary action, if any, will the CBP agents face if the investigation finds that they violated the sensitive locations policy?
· What are CBP's policies and operating procedures regarding medical treatment cases necessitating transit through a Border Patrol checkpoint?
· What are CBP's policies and operating procedures regarding personnel on duty inside hospitals?

We look forward to your timely response.