Fear Leads Few Migrants to Evacuate During Hurricane

As the New York Times reported last week, many undocumented immigrants in the Gulf Coast region were too afraid to evacuate during Hurricane Gustav. Even though the Department of Homeland Security and the Red Cross released statements saying that immigration status would not be checked during evacuations procedures, few believed them.

I feel like this is a testament to just how far our “enforcement only” policies have pushed migrants into the shadows and the margins of society. Even when they fear for their lives, they fear our government more. America should be ashamed.

Now, with Ike bearing down on Texas, we may see more of the same – and apparently for good reason. From the Associated Press:

Federal authorities gave assurances they would not check people’s immigration status at evacuation loading zones or inland checkpoints. But residents were skeptical, and there were worries that many illegal immigrants would refuse to board buses and go to shelters for fear of getting arrested and deported.

“People are nervous,” said the Rev. Michael Seifert, a Roman Catholic priest and immigrant advocate. “The message that was given to me was that it’s going to be a real problem.”

One reason for the skepticism: Back in May, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the Border Patrol would do nothing to impede an evacuation in the event of a hurricane. But when Hurricane Dolly struck the Rio Grande Valley in late July, no mandatory evacuation was ordered, and as a result the Border Patrol kept its checkpoints open. Agents soon caught a van load of illegal immigrants.

Let’s keep the people in these regions in our thoughts this week. Especially those forced into hiding, not only from natural disasters, but from manmade ones as well.

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