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Austin, TX – As Hurricane Harvey levelled many areas of Houston, people from across the city scrambled to find safety in one of the city’s many shelters. Unfounded rumors of immigration checkpoints led to fear among the city’s 600,000 undocumented immigrants who, along with fearing for their lives, were forced to fear that they might be detained for seeking refuge from the storm.
Stepped-up enforcement of immigration measures put many on edge over deportations, while Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas signed one of the nation’s most punitive laws against cities that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities. President Trump has amplified his harsh line on illegal immigration and renewed his promise to build a border wall.
Then came the chaos of Hurricane Harvey.
According to Mario Carrillo, State Director of America’s Voice: Texas:
As Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc along the Texas coast, Texans came together to help those most in need find safety. It brought out the best of Texas’ values, as the harrowing images helped the country see the storm’s devastation.
But, it shouldn’t only be during disasters when all Texans should feel safe to call for help and support. Hurricane Harvey brought to light exactly why laws like SB4 are not only discriminatory against immigrants and Texans of color, but also dangerous. We commend Judge Garcia’s sensible decision to enjoin the majority of the unconstitutional law, but we know a long fight remains. President Trump and his deportation foot soldier Gov. Greg Abbott have spent much of their time in office fomenting fear in immigrant communities.
We applaud the leadership shown by elected officials across the state, who have reaffirmed their commitment to protecting their immigrant communities during this moment of crisis. But we especially uplift the efforts of everyday Texans, who regardless of their immigration status, religion, or the color of their skin, have come together to support families fleeing dangerous conditions and have shown the best of Texas.
We excerpt key portions of Simon Romero’s and Miriam Jordan’s piece below. It can be found in its entirety here.
Families among Houston’s estimated 600,000 undocumented immigrants – the largest number of any city in the United States except New York and Los Angeles, according to the Pew Research Center – fled their homes to escape the flooding despite their anxiety over being turned away at shelters or facing hostile immigration agents.
People were telling each other that the immigration men were coming to check our papers,” said Eloy González, 40, a truck driver who made it to the sprawling shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center. All he had were the drenched clothes he was wearing when he escaped the flooding in Pasadena, a suburb of Houston where thousands of immigrants live in the shadow of oil refineries.
“The rumors are false but the fear is still there,” said Mr. González, an immigrant from northern Mexico, emphasizing that he was one of the “lucky ones” who is legally in the United States.
Even as political leaders in Houston sought to reassure residents that routine immigration enforcement would not be conducted at shelters and food banks, many people fleeing their homes expressed dismay over what they described as mixed signals coming from immigration authorities in the upheaval around Hurricane Harvey.
The Border Patrol did not suspend operations at checkpoints in Texas on Saturday even after the storm unleashed destruction in parts of the state, drawing sharp rebukes from human rights activists who said the decision put the lives of undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families at risk.
The American Civil Liberties Union said that maintaining the checkpoints stood in contrast to the position taken just last October by the Border Patrol during Hurricane Matthew, when authorities explicitly said that there would be no immigration enforcement checkpoints.