As residents of coastal Texas begin packing up and fleeing the potential once-in-a-decade levels of destruction posed by Hurricane Harvey, there is a good chance their exodus from the storm’s path will be impeded by federal Customs and Border Protection agents manning immigration checkpoints along the state’s roads, despite the impending natural disaster.
“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 in a statement to the Texas Tribune:
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.
In other words, undocumented immigrants who might otherwise never leave their communities are now being faced with a potentially impossible dilemma: Stay home and risk their lives in the face of what could be a catastrophic natural disaster, or flee and risk arrest, detention, and deportation.
“I get very worried in hurricane season because I know and my husband knows there’s no way we’re going to go back to Mexico because of the insecurity,” one undocumented immigrant told The Guardian at the start of last year’s season. “The only risk we can take is going up, to be deported.”
The decision is an apparent change from years past. In 2016, during Hurricane Matthew, the agency released a joint statement with ICE announcing: “There will be no immigration enforcement initiatives associated with evacuations or sheltering related to [Hurricane] Matthew, including the use of checkpoints for immigration enforcement purposes in impacted areas during an evacuation.”