As Facing South reported earlier this week, deportation concerns rank high amongst immigrants evacuating this latest round of Gulf Coast hurricanes. Undocumented immigrants along the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast have resisted mandatory evacuation orders out of fear they could be arrested and deported at check points. The Christian Science Monitor reports that increased immigration raids this past year are a key reason that many undocumented may choose to stay in the storm zone during Hurricane Ike.
According to the CS Monitor:
As up to a million Texans flee the wind and rain of hurricane Ike, the federal government has imposed a "hurricane amnesty" for the state's estimated 1.6 million unauthorized immigrants. That means no ID checks at shelters, no border patrol checkpoints, no Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents scouring the highways, says Dan Martinez, spokesman for the Austin-based Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
But with the intensification of crackdowns and raids in recent years, evacuation may prove a tough sell to some Hispanics in the storm's path.
As Facing South previously reported, the climate of fear around deportation has worsened as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has stepped up its crackdown on illegal immigrants in the last few years. ICE has made some 3,900 immigration arrests and 1,000 criminal arrests in the past 10 months, and Texas has been the site of several major ICE raids, including the Swift and Company raids in 2006, reports the CS Monitor.
Even if deportation fears are addressed at the federal level, the lack of local outreach to immigrant communities to let them know about the amnesty remains a serious concern. Facing South reported on the difficulties faced by outreach workers trying to get the word out to immigrant communities in New Orleans to let them know that no immigration enforcement actions or checkpoints would occur in the Hurricane Gustav evacuation process. Despite there being a higher percentage of Spanish-language radio and TV stations in coastal Texas - which means that amnesty news about non-enforcement should be reaching a larger percentage of the immigrant community - outreach problems have become just as big an issue in Texas as they were in Louisiana.
As the CS Monitor reported:
But in some areas, local emergency officials have not targeted the Hispanic community specifically. For one, authorities say they don't have a good handle on the exact number of undocumented workers living in the storm zone. "We know there's a significant number," says Marco Bracamontes, a Harris County spokesman.
In nearby Matagorda County, emergency officials are equally unsure. "I don't know how many are here," says James Gibson, a Matagorda County commissioner.
In Brazoria County, where the coastal city of Freeport could take the brunt of the hurricane, officials have told everybody to get out but haven't done any special outreach to undocumented communities. "We've done just about all we can do," says Marie Beth Jones, a spokeswoman for the county. "If they decide to stay, there's not a whole lot we can do about it."
With as many as 400,000 illegal immigrants estimated to be living in the Houston area alone, this continued lack of adequate outreach comes across as a dangerous disregard to the lived experiences and needs of immigrant communities in the path of the storm.