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Immigration Officials: No 'Routine' Enforcement at Flooding Evacuation Centers, Food Banks

Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection issued statements in Spanish, Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese today pledging not to conduct “routine” immigration enforcement at sites used by evacuees from Hurricane Harvey flooding.

The American Civil Liberties Union charged Friday just before the storm made landfall that the Border Patrol was putting lives in danger by keeping immigration checkpoints open along routes that evacuees would use to flee.

“As people seek refuge from hurricane Harvey, they are likely to have to go north or west of Texas and would have to go through a checkpoint. By keeping checkpoints open, the Border Patrol is putting undocumented people and mixed-status families at risk out of fear of deportations,” said ACLU director of immigration policy and campaigns Lorella Praeli. “This is a disgusting move from the Border Patrol that breaks with past practices. The Border Patrol should never keep checkpoints open during any natural disasters in the United States. Everyone, no matter the color of their skin or background, is worth saving.”

When asked by MSNBC if immigrants would be forced to show ID at storm shelters, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said “it will not be an issue.”

“What everyone is focused on right now is ensuring all we can to protect life,” Abbott said. “We all have a high regard for life. We want to ensure the safety of all lives and we’re prepared to take all measures to do so.”

In the federal government’s statement today, ICE and CBO said their “highest priorities are to promote life-saving and life-sustaining activities, the safe evacuation of people who are leaving the impacted area, the maintenance of public order, the prevention of the loss of property to the extent possible, and the speedy recovery of the region.”

“The department’s law enforcement components will be at the ready to help anyone in need of assistance,” the agencies said. “In evacuation or response, we are committed to making sure that we can assist local authorities quickly, safely, and efficiently. Routine non-criminal immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at evacuation sites, or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks. The laws will not be suspended, and we will be vigilant against any effort by criminals to exploit disruptions caused by the storm.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told residents during a press conference today that they shouldn’t fear calling authorities for help because of their immigration status. “If someone tries to deport you, I will represent you myself,” he vowed.