SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Fears of deportation have placed a cloud over a Sacramento church.
The Del Paso church La Vida serves as a sanctuary for the local Hispanic community. Federal immigration agents were caught staking out at the church during services.READ MORE: Grass Fire Threatens Structures, Forces Evacuations In Elk Grove
But Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have a policy to avoid sensitive places, including houses of worship.
Pastor Alex Vaiz’s Sacramento church is a safe place for people from all walks of life.
“A good number of our church are immigrants,” said he said.
But Vaiz says that sanctuary is now threatened, after federal immigration agents staked out across the street from the church during Sunday services.
Vaiz approached an unmarked sedan in the parking lot of an old Bank of America.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents told him they were there by coincidence, not realizing the church exists. Del Paso boulevard has signs pointing to La Vida church but it’s tucked away behind an art gallery. ICE agents made no arrests, and left, leaving the pastor and his church on edge.
“There was confusion and a lot of fear,” said Vaiz.
In a statement, ICE tells CBS13:READ MORE: California's Power Grid Operator Urges Residents To Conserve Energy Amid Heat Wave
“Officers were conducting surveillance in conjunction with a targeted enforcement action. the officers, who were parked in a lot marked by a sign for a major bank, were unaware the property is used by a congregation that holds Sunday services in an office building across the street.”
“The vast majority of immigrants are not criminals. They have violated civil immigration law, but they’re not criminals,” said Luis Cespedes.
Luis Cespedes is an immigration attorney and serves as legal counsel for the Sacramento’s Safe Haven Task Force, protecting immigrant families from unlawful raids. But Cespedes says ICE’s conduct at La Vida Church is lawful. If the person they were looking for is convicted of a crime, the city is not a sanctuary for criminals.
“Both of our local jurisdictions and ICE contemplate continuing to arrest, particularly if there’s a judicial warrant… serious felons,” said Cespedes.
Immigration raids have spiked nationwide under the Trump administration, but ICE maintains its policy to avoid sensitive areas, including churches.
“There is more power in numbers,” said Vaiz.
So Vaiz is now powering through by beefing up security at services.
“We’re just worried about them coming back again and intimidating our congregation,” said Vaiz.MORE NEWS: Man Arrested After Road Rage Incident Involves Gunshots, Illegal Fireworks in Modesto
ICE emphasizes the incident is purely coincidence and agents are not targeting churches and other sensitive areas.