Give Me Your Papers in Natural Disasters

Where has the Compassion and Sanity of this Country Gone? - Give me your papers in natural disasters...

By Kathleen Campbell Walker, President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association

While our government agents are busy arresting people in the meat packing and baking sectors this week in Iowa and San Diego, respectively, according to several reports published in the Rio Grande Guardian of the South Texas valley area, the Border Patrol apparently plans to "prescreen" people showing up for emergency bus evacuations during a hurricane.

In trying to imagine how low current immigration xenophobia can go, this announcement must be bedrock. According to the Guardian articles, our U.S. Border Patrol will be checking the legal status of people at hurricane shelters and when it is time for evacuation on buses - those without status will be moved by Border Patrol "to a detention facility in a safe area of the state." I can just see it now. During Hurricane Katrina, El Paso was one of the locations to which refugees were shipped. How convenient that we have a large detention facility here, as well as one for unaccompanied minors for our South Texas refugees.

I can remember as a child experiencing Hurricane Celia destroying many homes in my hometown of Portland, Texas and the resulting devastation from the ferocity of the storm. It is beyond an act of cruelty for this country to force someone to choose between a life preserver and potential detention and removal from this country during a natural disaster. For that matter, not everyone carries documentation of their legal status, least of all, U.S. Citizens. The article reports that a Border Patrol spokesman indicated that agents are "good at spotting" those who are not U.S. citizens. Interesting how one does that in a pre-emergency situation - is that due to a difference in language or skin color?

Do we really want to slow down emergency evacuations by reviewing documentation for legal status in the U.S.? Those with experience with immigration laws know that a determination of status is often not possible without file access in addition to database review. Shouldn't the focus in natural disasters be the preservation of life? Are we willing to save the U.S. citizen wanted for a murder but not a foreign national who overstayed a visa and is working at a local ranch, farm, hospital, day care center, restaurant, etc.?

We demand that the U.S. Border Patrol retract this policy, if indeed in existence, and confirm that during natural disasters, the focus will be on preservation of life and that an emergency evacuation will not be hindered or delayed in an attempt to determine lawful immigration status.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 08051631.