While Texans are stocking up on supplies and making evacuation preparations for Hurricane Harvey, which threatens life and property with Category 1 to 3 conditions, undocumented South Texans escaping the storm may find themselves facing another danger.
According to a statement from the United States Border Patrol, the agency will keep its roadside immigration checkpoints north of the Rio Grande Valley open unless dangers to travelers or agents arise, the Texas Tribune reported.
“Border Patrol checkpoints will not be closed unless there is a danger to the safety of the traveling public and our agents. Border Patrol resources, including personnel and transportation, will be deployed on an as needed basis to augment the efforts and capabilities of local-response authorities,” the statement read. “The Border Patrol is a law enforcement agency and we will not abandon our law enforcement duties.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection public affairs officer Roberto Rodriguez elaborated, saying officers would prioritize public safety but continue to fulfill the goals of the agency.
“We’re not going to impede anybody getting out of here, but at the same time we’re a law enforcement agency, so we still have to conduct our duties,” Rodriguez said.
As of Friday morning, Hurricane Harvey has strengthened to a Category 2 hurricane. The National Weather Service reports the hurricane is a “high” threat to life and property, and that the area of southeast Texas should be ready to face winds of 74 to 110 mph. Mayor Tony Martinez of Brownsville, located on the southernmost tip of Texas, issued a disaster declaration for the city and activated its emergency operations center.
The agency’s unwavering front amid an arising natural disaster could be unsettling for undocumented Texans living in the southeastern most part of the state and throughout the Rio Grande Valley, where dozens of impoverished communities in the area (marked “Colonia Area” in the below tweet) and Texas’ coastal bend will be hit the hardest by the hurricane.
— Teddy Wilson (@reportbywilson) August 25, 2017
This should make you sick. ICE & CBP temporarily suspended enforcement measures during evacuations w Hurricane Matthew in '16 & Isaac in '12 https://t.co/RbaGpf365E
— Julia Wick (@sherlyholmes) August 25, 2017
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas denounced the agency’s decision to continue operating amid the life-threatening conditions, but policy strategist Astrid Dominguez said he hopes the government would ease up on enforcement should the hurricane call for a mass evacuation.
ICE and the CBP last suspended initiatives for a natural disaster during Hurricane Matthew evacuations in 2016, though the agency’s statement didn’t specify what would trigger a rollback this time around.
“Safety should be a priority regardless of immigration status,” said ACLU policy strategist Astrid Dominguez. “This is very concerning for the community. It sends a wrong message.”
H/T the Texas Tribune
Update 1:13pm CT, Aug. 25: During an interview on MSNBC, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said undocumented immigrants seeking shelter during the storm will not need to show their identification. Additionally, ICE and Border Protection released a joint statement saying they don’t plan to conduct “non-criminal” immigration actions at places where people might seek shelter, and that their highest priorities are to “promote life-saving and life-sustaining activities.”
ICE detainees at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas, located miles off the Gulf of Mexico, will be temporarily moved to facilities away from the storm’s path.
“Routine non-criminal immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at evacuation sites, or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks,” the statement read, according to the Washington Post. “The laws will not be suspended, and we will be vigilant against any effort by criminals to exploit disruptions caused by the storm.”