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GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Fake news reports that federal immigration officials were on church property resulted in the bishop of Orange writing two letters — a reprimand sent to Homeland Security and an instructional letter sent to his parishes and schools teaching them how to legally resist investigations conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
News reports came out Friday, revealing the tension between Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the diocese of Orange with its 1.5 million Catholics, 40 percent of whom are Latino. Roughly 60 percent of the Latino Catholics in Orange are immigrants.
Understandably, the local ordinary, Bp. Kevin Vann, is sensitive to the issue of immigration. In response to a report that an ICE vehicle was outside his cathedral last month, he wrote a strongly worded letter to DHS saying, "The presence of an ICE vehicle on our property is wrong." The vehicle, however, didn't belong to ICE.
On February 17, pictures circulated of what was thought to be an ICE vehicle outside of Christ Cathedral in the diocese of Orange. Consequently, Bp. Vann wrote a letter to DHS dated March 2 stating, "On February 17 at 12:10 p.m. a van from a local ICE office entered the campus of Christ Cathedral without notice or permission. This is quite disturbing to me ... I am enclosing a photo that was taken at that time to show that this event did indeed occur."
The bishop adds, "We do not wish Homeland Security/ ICE agents on our church properties, campuses and schools, and I wish to be very clear about this point."
The diocese forwarded the information of the February 17 incident to Democratic Rep. Lou Correa from Santa Ana, who on March 16 told DHS secretary John Kelly, "Christ Cathedral is my church. I know what it looks like, and these photos clearly show an ICE vehicle staking out the parking lot. This is despicable, and this behavior must end. It is intimidation, and it is wrong."
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice clarified to Correa that the vehicle in the photo "belongs to another agency, not U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement." Correa's Press Secretary Andrew Scibetta subsequently confirmed that the SUV in the photo was actually from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Not only was it not an ICE vehicle but the officers were not there to conduct an invesitigation but rather to attend a funeral of a military veteran. Scibetta forwarded a statement sent to him by CBP which reads:
On February 17, 2017, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer from the Los Angeles CBP Honor Guard attended the funeral of a military veteran at the Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. The CBP Honor Guard has a proud tradition of routinely attending memorial services to honor law enforcement and military personnel who have bravely served their country. CBP was not conducting any law enforcement operations in or around the Christ Cathedral or immediate area.
As of Friday, Correa's office had not yet corrected their faulty news release of March 17, which claimed the vehicle belonged to ICE and was staking out the cathedral. Scibetta did acknowledge that Correa was now aware that the van didn't belong to ICE but instead belonged to a border patrol officer who was attending a funeral at the cathedral. He also noted that their office was in the process of correcting the misinformation.
While this was unfolding, Bp. Vann also sent a letter to all of his parishes and schools, instructing them on how to legally resist ICE officers should they appear on church property. Diocese spokesman Ryan Lilyengren confirmed, "Additionally, Bp. Vann issued organizational and legal guidance to the 62 parishes and 41 schools within the diocese, regarding how to address the presence of ICE at our facilities."
This letter follows in the steps of the directive sent out by the archbishop of Chicago, Cdl. Blase Cupich, who instructed his flock on how to resist ICE officials on church property. Cardinal Cupich sent a letter last month to more than 200 Catholic schools in the archdiocese, telling them not to allow entry to immigration officials without a warrant.
Greg Walgenbach, director of Life, Justice and Peace for the diocese of Orange, discussed some of Bp. Vann's protocols saying "you don't open the door, you ask to see a warrant under the door and you have a right to remain silent."
Some of the directives by Bp. Vann to his parishes and schools regarding possible ICE investigations called for:
ICE spokeswoman, Virginia Kice, related that ICE officials were "doing everything to be responsive and transparent." She reiterated that ICE has the policy of telling officers to avoid sensitive locations including, schools, churches and hospitals. It's their policy to also avoid religious observations such as weddings, funerals and even marches.
She further took to task those who stirred the pot with the fake news story about ICE staking out the cathedral. "When people put out misinformation, it creates panic and puts our officers and the general public at risk," said Kice. "We ask the public to reach out to us and verify before you vilify."