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Bill Would Create 'Sensitive Locations' For Immigration Enforcement

<p>The Multnomah County Courthouse in downtown Portland.</p>

Bradley W. Parks

The Multnomah County Courthouse in downtown Portland.

Members of the Oregon congressional delegation are co-sponsoring a bill that would limit areas where federal immigration enforcement can take place.

Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Earl Blumenauer, both Portland Democrats, have joined with some two dozen other members of their party and signed onto a bill introduced in the U.S. House on Thursday that would carve out so-called "sensitive locations" where officers with Immigration and Customs Enforcement would be prevented taking enforcement action.

So far, no Republicans have signed onto the bill.

The Department of Homeland Security issued memos in 2011 and 2013 outlining sensitive locations. They included places like schools, hospitals, funerals and churches.

"This is basically codifying guidance that was put in place for a reason, because it's important for the health and safety of our communities," Bonamici said in an interview. "This should not be a partisan issue."

The bill expands locations to include courthouses, school bus stops, domestic violence shelters, along with other locations.

Immigration advocates have recently raised concerns about immigration arrests at or near Multnomah County courthouses. Advocates say enforcement actions at or near courthouses are preventing people from accessing the justice system.

The bill allows for exceptions in instances involving terrorism, cases involving dangerous felons or the imminent risk of destruction of evidence in an on going criminal case.

“It’s outrageous that ICE is targeting people leaving church or taking their children to school," Blumenauer said in a statement. "People are living in fear and being forced into the shadows."

ICE declined to comment on the bill. But in an email, a spokeswoman said the agency's officers avoid sensitive locations outlined in the DHS memos, "unless they have prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official or in the event of exigent circumstances."

Copyright 2017 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Conrad Wilson is a reporter and producer covering criminal justice and legal affairs for OPB.