With chants of “familias unidas jamás serán vencidas” (united families will never be defeated!) and “evacuation not deportation,” community leaders from around the Valley rallied today in front of the McAllen Convention Center as the State of Texas Hurricane Conference took place inside. In response to the position that Border Patrol would continue immigration enforcement procedures during a hurricane evacuation, the community members called for a safe and humane hurricane evacuation plan that does not leave families behind.
For the last two hurricane seasons, Customs and Border Protection officials have announced they would keep open Border Patrol checkpoints along evacuation routs and at evacuation staging areas, such as bus loading areas for community members unable to transport themselves, a policy that would slow down the evacuation and separate families of mixed legal status in the process. With forecasters predicting more and stronger hurricanes this season, which begins June 1, Valley members’ concern for their family’s safety is rising.
“I have two kids here in the United States,” says Reyna, a LUPE member from Pharr. “But I don’t have documents. It seems ridiculous, inhumane.”
Local officials have also expressed their concern with the CBP’s policy. Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos has stated, “[I]f they [the Border Patrol] choose to do this — it just stands to reason that it’s going to hinder or slow down the evacuation process. And once word gets out, people will not evacuate. They’ll just stay home. They won’t leave if they fear they’re going to be deported.”
Homeland Security suspended enforcement activities during hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
Reyna, along with more than 30 community leaders, came to present the Disaster-Response Team with letters from friends and family expressing opposition to the policy. One letter read, “The simple fact of being immigrants—that support this country so much—does not make it right. What’s more, it’s ridiculous that they’d ask for permission [to cross the checkpoint] if it is about something human.”
In a letter to Disaster-Response Team leaders prepared by the Rio Grande Equal Voice Network, a coalition of 10 RGV community-based organizations representing more than 16,000 families in every part of the Valley, DHS is admonished to “hold as a first priority the safety and well-being of Valley residents, suspending immigration enforcement actions during evacuations until after the cleanup and recovery from a hurricane.”
Equal Voice partners, including LUPE, have resolved to keep up the pressure on CBP until they change their policy.
Check out more pictures from the event on Facebook.