As Hurricane Irma barrels toward Florida, the Department of Homeland Security says it will suspend civil immigration enforcement in areas affected by the storm.
DHS officials announced late Wednesday that its immigration and border security components — Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) — have shifted their priorities to life-saving operations and the maintenance of public order.
As a result, neither agency will carry out “non-criminal” immigration enforcement in Irma’s path, allowing illegal immigrants to access storm shelters and relief services without fear of being detained.
“DHS will not conduct non-criminal immigration enforcement operations in the affected area,” the agency said in a statement. “At the request of FEMA, local and state authorities, DHS law enforcement personnel will be in the affected area to conduct search and rescue, air traffic de-confliction and public safety missions.”
Immigration status will not be a factor in rescue operations, DHS officials confirmed.
Irma is expected to make landfall near Miami as a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 145mph. The greater Miami area is home to about 450,000 illegal immigrants, according to a Pew Research Center study from February.
DHS followed a similar policy of non-enforcement in the Houston area in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey last week. As with Harvey, immigration and border security officers in South Florida will assist emergency management personnel in search-and-rescue operations, according to the agency.
Despite the shifting priorities, DHS says its law enforcement personnel will still be on hand to guard against criminal activity in the vulnerable period after Irma passes.
“The laws will not be suspended, and we will be vigilant against any effort by criminals to exploit disruptions caused by the storm,” DHS said.
Officials said ICE detainees in custody at the Krome Detention Center, Monroe County Jail, Broward Transitional Center, and Glades Detention Center will be transferred to other detention facilities outside Irma’s projected path.
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