New DHS Protected Areas Policy Will Safeguard Children and Families

Washington, D.C., October 27, 2021—Today the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a new “protected areas” policy to replace the 2011 sensitive locations policy, marking an important development in mitigating the harm of immigration enforcement actions on children and families. This new policy, which takes effect immediately, is a critical step in beginning to repair the far-reaching and devastating damage inflicted by the prior administration on children and families due to ramped-up immigration enforcement.

By redefining sensitive locations as protected areas, DHS is prioritizing the well-being and healthy development of children, families, and other vulnerable populations. The policy provides a more comprehensive, though non-exhaustive, list of locations where immigration agents are restricted from conducting enforcement actions, including places where children gather such as playgrounds and recreation centers and locations providing social services and disaster relief.

“Our own research has demonstrated the devastating and pervasive harm in communities and families caused by immigration enforcement. We welcome this new policy, which will make a significant difference in the lives of millions of children,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). “We are particularly pleased that the policy considers the importance of safeguarding places where children gather and that it includes important provisions for training and accountability to ensure consistent implementation. We look forward to working with the Biden-Harris Administration in rolling out this policy by helping to inform and educate partners and stakeholders.”

The policy will go a long way in addressing the chilling effect that often makes parents feel unsafe taking their children to school or other critical places and will help prevent children from witnessing a parent’s apprehension, which research shows can lead to long-term trauma.

“Over the years, I have met children and families who have shared their fear of carrying out simple everyday activities, like going to the grocery store, playground, or even to a doctor’s appointment. In some homes, signs were hung up on doors at children’s eye level saying, ‘Don’t open the door.’ And all over the country, I encountered stories of immigration agents waiting for parents to drop off kids at school, sometimes forcing children to witness their parents’ arrest at the start of a school day. No child should have to live in constant fear of losing a parent, and this policy will help ensure that immigration enforcement is carried out in a way that does not impede children and families from going about the essential activities in their lives,” said Wendy Cervantes, director of immigration and immigrant families at CLASP.

For more on how DHS can help mitigate the harm of immigration enforcement on children and families, see: