Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) will suspend operations related to the detention of illegal immigrants who have not committed crimes at evacuation sites and public assistance centers throughout Texas and Louisiana, as Hurricane Harvey barrels towards the coast.
The approach of the devastating storm, which reached category 3 strength, put illegal immigrants in a dangerous position. Though state authorities have urged individuals throughout the coastal regions of southeast Texas to evacuate, the prospect of encounters with law enforcement and public safety officers could have deterred some illegal aliens from leaving their homes, risking serious injury or death to avoid deportation.
This difficult calculus prompted ICE and CBP to announce they would not detain undocumented aliens who have not committed crimes other than entering the country illegally in the coming days.
“Routine non-criminal immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at evacuation sites, or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks,” the agencies said in a statement. “The laws will not be suspended, and we will be vigilant against any effort by criminals to exploit disruptions caused by the storm.”
“ICE and CBP’s 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,” they added.
There are approximately 575,000 unauthorized aliens in the greater Houston area alone, according to a February study by the Pew Research Center.
ICE is also evacuating one of its detention facilities in anticipation of widespread destruction. Detainees at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas, will be transferred to other immigration facilities on a temporary basis.
Hurricane Harvey is expected to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday. Significant storm surge and sustained winds exceeding 110 miles per hour are expected.
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