ICE withdraws big fines for immigrants living in churches

Kantele Franko
Associated Press
FILE - In a Wednesday, July 17, 2019 file photo, Maria Chavalan-Sut of Guatemala, one of a number of immigrants taking sanctuary at houses of worship, speaks during an interview at the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Charlottesville, Va.

Columbus, Ohio – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is reversing course months after threatening six-figure fines against immigrants taking sanctuary at churches.

A coalition of attorneys, organizers and other allies called the National Sanctuary Collective says seven women have been notified that ICE, using its discretion, is withdrawing its intent to fine them between $300,000 and $500,000.

Attorney Lizbeth Mateo argues the fines were illegal and intended to scare the immigrants, including a Mexican woman living at a Columbus, Ohio, church.

ICE spokesman Richard Rocha says the immigrants have remained in the U.S. in violation of the law and still are subject to removal orders that ICE intends to enforce.

Immigrants have sought relief from deportation at houses of worship because immigration officials consider them “sensitive locations” in which enforcement action is avoided.

Associated Press Writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.