By Dhanya Addanki 3-02-2017

On Feb. 8, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials reportedly took at least six Latino men away in vans as they exited Rising Hope Mission Church’s overnight hypothermia center in Arlington, Va. The names and whereabouts of the taken men remain unknown.

Following their detainment, activists and lawyers entered ICE headquarters in Fairfax, Va., to demand answers from ICE officials. Their pleas were rejected and officials asked the group to leave the building.

No one has yet been willing to provide information about what Rising Hope Mission Church pastor Keary Kincannon calls a "confusing ordeal."

"We have no idea where they are, and we’re hearing reports that guards won’t even give detainees their one call," Kincannon said.

Refusing phone calls to detainees is not an uncommon practice. Reports show that beyond dropped calls and expensive calling cards, many ICE centers do not even allow detainees to contact the outside world.

“This makes it difficult for us to track anyone down,” Kincannon said.

But Kincannon and other activists' loud voices did not fall wholly on deaf ears. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) took notice of the sensitivity around this incident, and invited Kincannon as his guest to President Donald Trump's address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday. 

“First and foremost, it was an honor to be invited,” Kincannon said. "It was a little startling to be around people who lived in such a privileged bubble and have never stepped outside of their circles.”

Kincannon and Warner walked through the same doorway as the president and his cabinet, and took a seat across from the podium — close enough to make direct eye contact with the president.

When Trump introduced plans for a Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement office, a new office to "serve American victims" of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, Kincannon felt disturbed.

"It feels like our church is targeted, and now there’s more fear inside the congregation," he said. 

He told the story of a Latina woman, born in the U.S., who frequents the food pantry at Rising Hope. Kincannon said she now carries her birth certificate with her in case ICE comes back and decides to question her about her status.

“She was born here, is a citizen, and she feels the need to carry around the birth certificate because she’s so scared of what could happen,” Kincannon said.

Although the pastor estimates only 30 percent of Rising Hope’s congregation to be Latinx, congregants still feel the pressure of shifting immigration rules.

ICE's Sensitive Locations Policy limits where ICE can engage in enforcement. The memo, created in 2011 under the Obama administration, states that schools, hospitals, sites of funerals, sites of public demonstration, and places of worship — like Rising Hope in Virginia — should not be targeted except under extenuating and urgent circumstances.

Recent accounts of immigration-related detainments in California, North Carolina, and Texas illustrate concerns immigrant communities have that the sensitive locations memo — and traditional ICE behavior — is being disregarded.

Rewire reports eyewitness accounts of raids within two miles of Berryhill School in Charlotte, N.C. ICE denies any wrongdoing, but according to Que Pasa, a Spanish newspaper based in Charlotte, children witnessed deportations on their route to school

And in El Paso, Texas, a woman was taken into custody by two plainclothes ICE officials as she attempted to file a protective order at the local courthouse. The woman lived in a center for victims of sexual and family violence. Although courthouses are not considered sensitive locations, it is unclear whether shelters fall under the sensitive locations umbrella.

While he continues to await answers about the men detained outside Rising Hope's shelter, Kincannon and his congregation are pledging unity with immigrant communities. The church will hold a vigil on March 4 to stand in solidarity with people affected by the changing policies of the Trump administration. 

“People give me hope,” Kincannon said. "Privileged people who are not happy about the way things are going, and people who come and stand in solidarity with us and our community — they all give me hope."

Dhanya Addanki is Associate Web Editor at Sojourners. Find her on Twitter at @dhanyaddanki

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