People are reportedly posing as Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents so that they may enter and rob the homes of Hurricane Harvey survivors.
ICE released a statement on Wednesday alerting residents of the Houston metro area of “disturbing reports” that people impersonating its officers are “knocking on doors in the Houston area telling residents to evacuate — presumably so these imposters can rob the empty homes.”
The statement outlines how to differentiate a real ICE agent from an imposter—namely, by the kinds of badges and credentials that they carry, which real officers can be asked for at any time.
The reports of fake ICE impersonators come at a particularly troubling time for the Houston immigrant community, and add another layer of fear and distrust in a community that is suffering and still coming to grips with its present reality.
With the sun coming out for the first time since the storm hit, Houstonites are just beginning to assess the extensive damage wrought by Harvey. Mayor Sylvester Turner has enacted a citywide curfew from midnight to 5 AM so residents who have been displaced don’t have to worry about “someone breaking into their home or looting or doing anything of that nature while they are away.”
Meanwhile, the Texas legislature is just days away from enacting SB4, a bill that bans sanctuary cities in the state, and the Customs and Border Patrol agency refused to stop manning the checkpoints it controls around the state, putting immigrants fleeing Harvey in potential harm’s way.
ICE has pledged to help with disaster relief efforts this week, and said that it will not be conducting immigration raids in areas affected by the hurricane. But the concern about authorities targeting the undocumented community has been so great that Mayor Turner recently vowed to “stand up with” the city’s undocumented residents.
“If someone comes and they require help and then for some reason [someone] tries to deport them, I will represent them myself,” Turner, a former attorney, said to reporters on Monday.
Houston, home to over half a million undocumented immigrants, may soon face the herculean task of rebuilding without the aid of that community. A recent story in The Washington Post notes that Houston’s immigrant-driven workforce will be imperative in its rebuilding efforts: Not only is the undocumented labor force (1.15 million) greater than the number of undocumented residents in the city, but 23% of them work in construction. An additional 32% work in hotels, restaurants, and other service industries.