During this past summer, ICE instituted a new policy aimed at flushing some of the illegal aliens currently taking sanctuary in churches out of their hiding places and into a courthouse for a hearing. They began issuing fines, sometimes adding up to hundreds of thousands of dollars on the sanctuary recipients. This had the usual list of suspects up in arms, but it also didn’t seem to produce much in the way of results.

Now, that policy has apparently been rescinded. In a recent announcement, they confirmed that the orders of “Notice of Intention to Fine” had been withdrawn. (Washington Times)

The government’s deportation agency has canceled the fines of up to $500,000 it had tried to levy on some illegal immigrants who are living in protection in churches, the sanctuary movement said Tuesday.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had fired off notices to a number of migrants earlier this year telling them they owed massive fines for defying deportation orders.

After an outcry from the migrants, and mocking from immigrant-rights advocates, ICE relented.

“Following consideration of matters you forwarded for ICE review, and in the exercise of discretion under applicable regulations, ICE hereby withdraws the Notice of Intention to Fine,” the agency said in letters to migrants. That portion of the letter was released publicly by the National Sanctuary Collective.

There are probably more illegal aliens doing this than you might imagine. The article linked at the top tells the story of Maria Chavalan-Sut, a Guatemalan illegal immigrant who has been holed up in a Methodist church in Virginia for more than a year now. There are plenty of others, like Jose Robles, a Mexican illegal who has been living in a Lutheran church in downtown Seattle for even longer.

Due to traditions and conventions at the agency, ICE doesn’t forcibly remove such individuals from churches where they have been granted sanctuary. And with enough community support and patience on the part of the church, they can last there for a long time.

So why did ICE decide to back off the policy at this point? They’re not saying, but it’s not too difficult to speculate. While perhaps not the deciding factor, the press, and the Democrats have been having a field day painting the agency as some sort of collection of evil monsters. With the elections drawing closer, perhaps someone determined that the massive fines would probably be yet another PR headache that they didn’t need.

Also, there’s the question of effectiveness. As I mentioned above, I’ve yet to find a single instance of a person in sanctuary coming out of hiding because they were worried about the fines. Most of the people taking this course of action have tended to stay in the church for a long time. If the strategy isn’t working there isn’t much sense continuing to generate all the paperwork to keep it going.

The bottom line is that if these individuals don’t qualify for any sort of exemption that would allow them to remain in the country, they’re just compounding their problems. Having spent so much time in violation of a court order to appear at a hearing, they’re unlikely to receive a sympathetic ear from the judge when they finally come out. And the reality is that you can’t stay in the same building indefinitely without eventually going stir crazy. They’ll have to come out sooner or later and all ICE really needs to do is be patient. And as long as they’re staying in the church they aren’t causing any other problems.