Community groups gathered Friday, the first day of hurricane season, outside of Border Patrol Sector Headquarters. They demanded that the federal government make a clear, official statement that local Border Patrol will not conduct immigration enforcement during and following hurricane evacuations. The groups emphasized that it is time to put an end to fear and uncertainty regarding immigration enforcement actions during a hurricane evacuation. Despite continued urging by community members, local Border Patrol officials maintain that they will continue the interception of drug smuggling and apprehension of undocumented immigrants before, during, and after a hurricane hits the area.
“If officials don’t make a clear statement ahead of time, people will not know if they can pass freely and quickly through the checkpoints. Border Patrol’s current policy could be putting people at risk of injury or death,” explained Krystal Gomez, Advocacy and Policy Counsel of ACLU Texas. Rosendo Hinojosa, chief of Border Patrol for the RGV sector, told reporters last year that Border Patrol would continue to enforce immigration laws during a hurricane evacuation, despite the dangers to human life.
“We in the RGV are being treated differently than the rest of the country,” said Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, Regional Director of the South Texas Civil Rights Project. “In Louisiana and the Mid-west, immigration enforcement is stopped to protect human life before, during, and after a natural disaster, but not here. Is the federal government saying that the lives of those in Louisiana are more important than the lives in the Rio Grande Valley? If not, then it’s clear that our local federal agents have gone rogue.”
The controversy about hurricane evacuations in South Texas started in 2008 when a Border Patrol spokesperson stated that every single person fleeing the hurricane would be checked for immigration status. “Our families still remember that it will not be safe and easy to evacuate,” said Marta Sanchez of La Union de Pueblo Entero (LUPE). “People are scared and won’t leave even when their lives are in danger. Border Patrol refuses to send a clear message that people will be allowed to quickly pass through the checkpoints so that they may get to safety.”
Community groups believe that some Valley residents will not leave because they fear the terrible traffic delays that may occur when hundreds of thousands of residents, attempting to evacuate, are forced to stop at checkpoints and show documentation to CBP officials. They also believe that families who have one or more undocumented members will likely stay to weather the storm together.
“All of us are at risk,” said Esperanza Berrones of Proyecto ARISE. “We are pleading with our local Border Patrol to prioritize human life. If Border Patrol makes a clear statement, we will work hard to let community members know that it is safe to leave during a natural disaster.
The community groups are calling on people to call the local CBP office at 956-289-4800 to ask that Border Patrol issue a statement that it will not engage in immigration enforcement at the checkpoints in the event of a natural disaster.
*For information regarding participation in the campaign or other information, please call Corinna Spencer-Scheurich at 956-787-8171 ext. 108.