Border Patrol (With Local Sheriffs) Apprehending Undocumented Immigrants in Churches

Apr 9, 2014
10:30 PM

UPDATE: We changed the head since it suggested that Border Patrol agent entered the church as well. That is not clear, but what is clear is this: undocumented immigrants were in a church, local sheriffs found them and then BP showed up.

This story got our attention when we received the following email from a loyal reader of this site:

I am on a social media “cleanse” for Lent, so apologize if you’ve already covered this. But it is OUTRAGEOUS!!

In short: Latino, poor, at a Catholic Church? Sheriffs in AZ consider that cause to question. I’m going to have to break my cleanse for this…

The reason why our fan is breaking the Lenten cleanse? The following tweet, which was also part of the email:

That tweet led us to this story out of Tucson: “N4T Investigators: Undocumented immigrants taken into custody at Ajo Catholic church” We did a double take before we started reading:

According to a Pima County Sheriff’s Department incident report obtained by the News 4 Tucson Investigators, a deputy passing by the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church spotted three Hispanic males on the front porch of the church. The three were wearing dingy and tattered clothing, and were also carrying water bottles.

The deputy goes on to say that all three then hurriedly walked into the church. The deputy then went into the church, which was not in session. Ultimately, the three told him they had come from Honduras, walking three months, and crossing the border illegally.

After taking the trio outside, the deputy detained the three until Border Patrol arrived. An agent them took the men into custody, after confirming they were in the country illegally.

“They had a suspicious look, and their behavior indicated that they were potentially up to no good. That’s why our deputy honed-in on it,” says Captain Frank Duarte, with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.

According to the Tucson report, the incident happened on March 23. That would be a week before U.S. bishops held a “Border Mass” in Nogales, right next to the U.S. “security” fence, to draw attention to migrant deaths and the need for immigration reform:

Talk about mixed messages. In fairness, the Tucson report also talked with the Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tuscon. Here is what the report said: 

Kicanas says there is a long-standing custom of the Border Patrol, police and sheriff to respect the sanctity of the church and not apprehend people inside. He also raised concerns that the group had entered the church seeking help, and asking to pray. Kicanas added, while police can legally question someone who looks suspicious it was not clear that the men had done anything wrong to lead to their apprehension in the church.

You can just imagine the reaction people are sharing with us on Twitter and Facebook. Here are just a few comments:

Is it legal? Technically, yes. Does it look really bad? Of course.

As another person wrote, “Not even the Church they respect. God Almighty.”

By the way, here is what ICE (a different agency from Border Patrol but in the business of “enforcing” immigration) said in 2011 about these situations: “This policy is designed to ensure that these enforcement actions do not occur at nor are focused on sensitive locations such as schools and churches unless (a) exigent circumstances exist~ (b) other law enforcement actions have led officers to a sensitive location…” So since the Tucson case also had local law enforcement in the mix, we guess it was cool to raid a church and deport some migrants.

Enforcement Actions at or Focused on Sensitive Locations

Looks like Border Patrol didn’t get ICE’s memo. Sure, BP is a different agency from ICE, but still. While we are on that subject, here is the difference:

United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for protecting our nation’s borders in order to prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States, while facilitating the flow of legitimate trade and travel.

United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for identifying and shutting down vulnerabilities in the nation’s border, economic, transportation and infrastructure security.

We digress, but it is interesting how U.S. Customs and Border Protection defines each agency.

Nonetheless, such news today also reminded us of the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s, where many churches were active to help Central Americans who where fleeing brutal civil wars, which, quite frankly, were being instigated by the U.S. government. As one outlet writes:

At the Sanctuary Movement’s height in the mid 1980s, over 150 congregations openly defied the government, publicly sponsoring and supporting undocumented Salvadoran or Guatemalan refugee families. Another 1,000 local Christian and Jewish congregations, several major Protestant denominations, the Conservative and Reform Jewish associations, and several Catholic orders all endorsed the concept and practice of sanctuary. Sanctuary workers coordinated with activists in Mexico to smuggle Salvadorans and Guatemalans over the border and across the country. Assistance provided to refugees included bail and legal representation, as well as food, medical care, and employment.

The defense of the Salvadorans and Guatemalans marked a new use of international human rights norms by U.S. activists. Citing the Nuremberg principles of personal accountability developed in the post-World War II Nazi tribunals, religious activists claimed a legal precedent to justify their violation of U.S. laws against alien smuggling. Other activists claimed that their actions were justified by the religious and moral principles of the 19th-century U.S. abolitionist movement, referring to their activities as a new “Underground Railroad.” Many U.S. religious leaders involved in the Sanctuary Movement had prior experience in the 1960s civil disobedience campaigns against racial segregation in the American South.

The fact is that yes, law enforcement can go into any church in the U.S. and apprehend people. Border Patrol sees so no problem. ICE agents are not allowed… unless, of course, they are accompanied by local law enforcement. However, many still think such an act is a desecration.