WASHINGTON, D.C. — Thursday, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall pressed Kirstjen Nielsen, President Trump’s nominee to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to commit to adhering to longstanding federal policies regarding immigration enforcement at sensitive locations like schools, hospitals, and religious institutions.
During a meeting with Nielsen ahead of her confirmation hearings, Udall expressed his serious concern about reports of ongoing violations of DHS’s existing policies prohibiting enforcement at sensitive locations, noting that he has sent multiple inquiries to DHS leadership on the matter that have gone unanswered.
Udall is aware of many troubling reports from New Mexicans who say they are afraid to report crimes or seek health care or services at schools, churches, and hospitals due to accounts that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is conducting enforcement operations at these locations.
In addition, a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy was recently detained in South Texas after being 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.
Udall issued this statement following his meeting with Nielsen:
“President Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric have sent shockwaves of fear throughout immigrant communities in New Mexico and across the country. No one should have to be afraid of going to the doctor, going to a place of worship, or going to school. I’m extremely disturbed by continued reports that federal agents are conducting enforcement operations at these sensitive locations, violating established policies and, quite frankly, putting public health and safety in danger. ICE should focus its limited resources on targeting dangerous criminals, not innocent families who have built a life in this country and who make our state and our nation strong. If she is confirmed, I will continue to expect that Ms. Nielsen and DHS respond to legitimate congressional inquiries, address and investigate these distressing reports, and commit to restoring longstanding DHS policy. And I will keep fighting for legislative solutions to not only ensure that people can receive essential services free from fear, but also to fix our badly broken immigration system.”
Earlier this month, Udall joined a group of 16 senators in calling for an investigation into apparent ongoing violations of federal policies regarding immigration enforcement at sensitive locations like schools, hospitals, and religious institutions.
In October, 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, Udall and a group of 20 senators wrote Duke to seek answers about the department’s current immigration enforcement policies. Neither inquiry has received a response.
Udall has cosponsored legislation in the Senate, authored by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), to prevent immigration enforcement officers from taking enforcement actions at sensitive locations without prior approval and exigent circumstances. The Protecting Sensitive Locations Act codifies the Department of Homeland Security’s existing policies and expands on those policies to ensure that immigrants are able to access education, criminal justice, and social services without fear of deportation.