Border Patrol officials have decided to keep all roadside checkpoints open in Texas during Hurricane Harvey — sparking outrage from the ACLU, which says illegal immigrants have the right to flee just like everybody else.
“By keeping checkpoints open, the Border Patrol is putting undocumented people and mixed-status families at risk out of fear of deportations,” Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy at the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement Friday.
“As people seek refuge from hurricane Harvey, they are likely to have to go north or west of Texas and would have to go through a checkpoint,” she explained. “This is a disgusting move from the Border Patrol that breaks with past practices. The Border Patrol should never keep checkpoints open during any natural disasters in the United States. Everyone, no matter the color of their skin or background, is worth saving.”
Border Patrol officials first announced the move on Thursday afternoon in a statement to the Texas Tribune.
“Border Patrol checkpoints will not be closed unless there is a danger to the safety of the traveling public and our agents,” the agency said. “Border Patrol resources, including personnel and transportation, will be deployed on an as needed basis to augment the efforts and capabilities of local-response authorities. The Border Patrol is a law enforcement agency and we will not abandon our law enforcement duties.”
While the ACLU believes the decision will deter illegal immigrants from fleeing, federal officials insist this won’t be the case.
“We’re not going to impede anybody getting out of here, but at the same time we’re a law enforcement agency, so we still have to conduct our duties,” CBP public affairs officer Roberto Rodriguez told the Tribune.
In a joint statement posted online Friday, officials from both the Border Patrol and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies said they would be promoting “life-saving and life-sustaining activities, the safe evacuation of people who are leaving the impacted area” and “the maintenance of public order,” among other things.
“Routine non-criminal immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at evacuation sites, or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks,” the statement said. “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 officials will ultimately “seek to provide for the safety and security of those in our custody and to protect them from bodily harm.”
“As such, ICE detainees from the Port Isabel Detention Center are being temporarily transferred to various other detention facilities outside the projected path and destruction of the hurricane,” the statement concluded. “In the event of transfers, the detainee’s attorney of record is notified, the Online Detainer Locator is updated, and the transfer is temporary in nature.”
Still, ACLU officials say they hope the federal government will ultimately change their mind about keeping the checkpoints open, should the hurricane intensify.
“At a time of emergency, CBP must prioritize safety for everyone who lives in Texas,” said ACLU of Texas policy strategist Astrid Dominguez.
“It is unconscionable that the Border Patrol is sending a dangerous, wrong message to our community by refusing to temporarily suspend immigration enforcement during an evacuation, as they did in 2016 and 2012,” he added. We call on CBP to put public safety first and ensure that, no matter their status, families who wish to leave the area can do so unimpeded.”