EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Migrants continue to camp in Downtown El Paso outside of Sacred Heart Church. Some of them being from countries like Venezuela, meaning they are still under Title 42 and could be expelled by Border Patrol.
However, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, some places, including churches are considered “protected areas”. Meaning the area is generally protected from ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Enforcement.
“We have received that information and they have respected the fact we are next to a church no one has come to pick us up or arrest us,” said a man named Julio Cesar from Venezuela as he stood near Sacred Heart Church on Friday.
Other areas besides churches include schools, medical facilities, places where children gather, and social services establishments among other places.
Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services Attorney Anna Hey spoke to KTSM about protected areas for undocumented migrants.
“They include areas like churches, areas that provide social services say for example a person was at a food pantry or at a medical facility where they were getting emergency treatment, or something like that those are considered protected areas. So, ICE generally unless there is a public safety concern will not do an enforcement action at those places,” said Hey.
Adding that not everyone camping in the area outside of Sacred Heart Church in Downtown El Paso are undocumented.
“Some of them may just be homeless populations that actually live in the area, or they could be people who have already come into custody with ICE or Customs and Border Protection, been processed and been permitted to remain in the United States with a notice to appear in court later,” said Hey.
The City of El Paso increased law enforcement and requested support from the state to patrol the area near the downtown church after reports of illegal activity in the area.
“Started to hear more and more complaints from the residents the migrants and the businesses About several concerns to include drug use, drug paraphernalia, intimidation of the businesses and the residents, and then, of course, the littering that is happening down there in general,” said Laura Cruz Acosta, a Spokesperson for the City of El Paso.
A man from El Salvador saying he has seen some of that illegal activity.
“Yesterday they took someone who was selling marijuana,” said the man from El Salvador as he stood next to Sacred Heart Church.
“They get rid of those people because we don’t want more red flags placed upon us. We have a positive mentality, and we don’t want a negativity amongst us,” he continued.
Cruz Acosta with the city adds that police and troopers in the area cannot enforce immigration laws.
“The law enforcement officers that are there right now are not federal officers, so they don’t enforce immigration laws they enforce state and local laws,” said Cruz Acosta.