Houston News & Search
Immigrant advocates are slamming federal officials for keeping border checkpoints open despite Hurricane Harvey hurtling towards the south Texas coast.
The hurricane is expected to come ashore near Corpus Christi, which is under a voluntary evacuation. Mandatory evacuations were issued for Aransas, Refugio, San Patricio, Victoria, Calhoun and Kleberg counties. Gov. Greg Abbott has declared a state of emergency in 30 counties in Texas. The hurricane is likely to hit late Friday or early Saturday as a Category 3 or 4.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection operates two major inland checkpoints south of Corpus Christi: The Falfurrias Border Patrol Checkpoint in Brooks County about 80 miles north of the Mexican border on U.S. Highway 281 and the Sarita Border Patrol Checkpoint on U.S. Highway 77 in Kenedy County.
The ACLU said the checkpoints put immigrants here illegally at risk and might dissuade them from evacuating.
The group called on CBP to temporarily halt immigration enforcement at the checkpoints as it said the agency did in 2016 and 2012.
Immigrants who pass through the checkpoints are asked for their documentation and can be quickly deported through an administrative process known as expedited removal if they are found not to be legally present within 100 miles of the border.
“At a time of emergency, CBP must prioritize safety for everyone who lives in Texas. 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,” Astrid Dominguez, ACLU of Texas policy strategist, said in a statement. “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.”
Clara Long, senior US researcher at Human Rights Watch, an international nonprofit, said public officials should prioritize the safety of all its residents, regardless of their legal status.
“The primary focus of public officials during a hurricane should be public safety, not forcing Texas residents to choose between possible separation from their families and being caught in what could be a natural disaster,” she said in a statement.
A CBP spokesman did not immediately respond for comment about the checkpoint policy.
But in a joint statement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency said its 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.”
It said routine non-criminal immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at evacuation sites, or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks.
It also said that immigrants in the Port Isabel Detention Center in south Texas were being moved temporarily to other facilities.
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