ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) has sent a letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seeking more information about an alleged raid last week in which ICE agents detained a group of men leaving a church shelter in Alexandria.
According to a pastor at Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church, at around 6:45 p.m., the Latino men were leaving an overnight hypothermia shelter at the church. The men walked across the street from the church, witnesses say dozens of ICE agents in several vehicles came up, put the men in handcuffs, questioned them and took some of them away.
Kaine said in a news release, "This incident is of great concern to me because members of this congregation believe that this church was targeted by your agency."
But ICE officials said they were in the area conducting consensual interviews about a potential target, and in the process of conducting those interviews with people there, they identified two men who had a criminal history and were in the U.S. illegally. In a statement, ICE told FOX 5:
"Every day, as part of routine targeted enforcement operations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests criminal aliens and other individuals who are in violation of our nation's immigration laws.
"ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy. ICE does not conduct sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately.
"The ICE sensitive locations policy, which remains in effect, provides that enforcement actions at sensitive locations should generally be avoided, and require either prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official or exigent circumstances necessitating immediate action. DHS is committed to ensuring that people seeking to participate in activities or utilize services provided at any sensitive location are free to do so without fear or hesitation."
However, Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church Pastor Keary Kincannon insisted there were more individuals taken. He said he spoke to one of the men who was briefly detained, but was let go because he had a Green Card.
"ICE has told the public only two people were taken here," said Kincannon. "We have witnesses that six or seven were taken here. We went to the ICE regional headquarters today in Fairfax and we tried to meet with ICE officials to find out who are those other people that they have taken. Let us know who they are. Where have you taken them? What is happening to them? They not only refused to talk with us when we tried to send a messenger, but they refused to give us the names of anybody and they refused to give us their names."
Since the Feb. 8 incident, Kincannon said people are now afraid to come to the church to use their hypothermia shelter.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe sent a similar letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) also sent a letter to the acting director of ICE. Warner's letter was more in response to the Jan. 25 executive order that President Donald Trump issued about enhancing public safety.