“A hurricane doesn’t stop to check for passports or proof of citizenship.” – Krystal Gomez, Advocacy and Policy Counsel for the ACLU of Texas Brownsville Regional Office.
Edinburg, TX, June 1, 2011 – Community groups and religious leaders gathered today, on the first day of hurricane season, outside of Border Patrol Sector Headquarters and called for the federal government to put an end to fear and uncertainty regarding immigration enforcement actions during a hurricane evacuation.
Local Border Patrol officials have stated that they will keep immigration checkpoints operational during a hurricane evacuation and touted their figures for immigration apprehension during Hurricane Dolly. Community groups, including the South Texas Civil Rights Project and the Immigration Working Group of the Equal Voice Network, called the local federal agency’s policy both dangerous and discriminatory as compared to policies applicable to tornado and other natural disaster- stricken regions.
“The local Border Patrol Sector has threatened to disregard the federal government’s nationwide policy of suspending immigration enforcement activities during a natural disaster,” said Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, Director of the South Texas Civil Rights Project. “Prioritizing human life makes practical and moral sense. During an evacuation, people need to know that they will be able to safely and quickly pass through Falfurrias or Sarita. Otherwise they might not leave.”
“If the local Border Patrol Chief will not suspend immigration enforcement during a hurricane evacuation, then the people of South Texas are being treated differently than people in the rest of the United States,” said Stephanie Welch, Border Rights Team Manager of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. “That would be discriminatory.”
“Families are scared and don’t know whether to leave or not,” said Martha Sanchez, community organizer for LUPE. “In order to be prepared as a community, we need Border Patrol to clearly tell the people of South Texas that they need not fear delays and apprehensions at the checkpoints.”
“My family is one of the many families in the Rio Grande Valley that do not even consider evacuating,” said LUPE staff member Claudia Garcia. “For our family it’s not even a question or whether we want to or is safe for us to stay or not because we are not going to leave my mom behind for anything.”
“If people do not leave before a hurricane, we could be looking at a Hurricane Katrina-type disaster,” remarked Ann Cass, Executive Director of Proyecto Azteca.
Community groups sent a letter last week to Representative Ruben Hinojosa pleading for assistance in obtaining a clear directive from local Border Patrol Sector Chief Rosendo Hinojosa. The letter was forwarded to Chief Hinojosa. Community groups requested a response as soon as possible as June 1st marked the beginning of hurricane season.
“A bad hurricane season is predicted for this year,” said Ramona Casas of ARISE. “We understand the importance of border security, but the federal government is playing with people’s lives by refusing to clarify their policy.”