Academic journal article Michigan Law Review

Treading on Sacred Land: Firstamendment Implications of Ice's Targeting of Churches

Academic journal article Michigan Law Review

Treading on Sacred Land: Firstamendment Implications of Ice's Targeting of Churches

Article excerpt


On a brisk February day in Alexandria, Virginia, several Hispanic men were crossing the street-leaving Rising Hope Methodist Church to go to a nearby shopping center-when they were ambushed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.1 Emerging from unmarked cars along the street, the agents bombarded the men, pinning them up against nearby walls.2 Without explanation or warning, ICE agents shackled the men with handcuffs and interrogated them about their immigration status.3 After roughly half an hour of questioning, the agents shoved the majority of the men into a van and headed toward an immigration detention facility.4

The location of the raid was no accident. For over fifteen years, Rising Hope Methodist Church had served as a spiritual sanctuary and shelter for the needy and homeless, many of whom were Hispanic immigrants.5 But for the witnesses amassed outside the church, the spectacle brought on feelings of shock, terror, and confusion.6 Rising Hope pastor Rev. Keary Kincannon described what happened in succinct terms: "[The ICE agents] were waiting until the Hispanic men came out of the church. And they rounded them all up. They didn't question the blacks. They didn't question the whites. They were clearly going after folks that were Latino."7 Although the Rising Hope raid gained significant media attention,8 it is only one example of a larger pattern of recent ICE enforcement actions that purposefully target churches connected to immigrant communities.9

ICE's practice of targeting particular religious institutions based on their racial or ethnic makeup violates the First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion and free association.10 Undocumented immigrants' protection under the First Amendment, however, remains unclear,11 meaning that undocumented immigrants may have no legal recourse against ICE's escalating encroachment on practices traditionally protected under the Constitution.12 The impact of ICE's policy extends beyond the undocumented immigrants targeted by the raids. For church staffand fellow parishioners, ICE's tactics present unannounced and uninvited intrusions into their places of worship. 13 While undocumented immigrants themselves may not be able to find refuge under the Constitution, there may nevertheless be creative ways to find legal relief.

Scholarship and litigation have primarily focused on the constitutionality of ICE raids in the context of Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful searches and seizures.14 Because ICE's church raids are a relatively recent phenomenon,15 the First Amendment implications of such actions have not yet been rigorously explored. While the First Amendment may provide a new avenue for relief, undocumented immigrants still face potential standing problems.16 To overcome this barrier, this Note articulates a novel strategy for using alternative claimants to challenge the constitutionality of ICE raids at churches under the First Amendment.

Specifically, this Note argues that U.S. citizen parishioners,17 bearing undisputed constitutional rights, have standing to bring First Amendment challenges to ICE's racially and religiously targeted incursions on their places of worship. Such lawsuits could impede government invasions of religious institutions and simultaneously provide a legal and practical shield for undocumented immigrants who seek to peacefully practice their religious beliefs. Part I explores the history of ICE's practice of targeted raids at churches as well as aspects of First Amendment doctrine that serve as the basis for potential claims against ICE. Part II discusses current doctrinal and practical obstacles that undocumented immigrants may face in bringing these claims themselves. Part III explains how U.S. citizen-driven litigation may be the most effective means for overcoming roadblocks inherent to claims brought by undocumented immigrants.


Before delving into the First Amendment issues raised by ICE's unconventional approach to immigration enforcement, it is important to contextualize ICE's growing practice within the agency's historical and legal background. …

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