The two agencies principally responsible for immigration enforcement “have stated that they are not conducting immigration enforcement at relief sites such as shelters or food banks,” the Federal Emergency Management Agency says in a section of its Hurricane Harvey website titled “Rumor Control.”
Social media posts had earlier reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents declined to stop enforcement efforts in the Houston area—where an estimated 600,000 undocumented immigrants live—even as residents struggled to find shelter from rising floodwaters. After ICE posted a picture of agency investigators assisting in rescue efforts, skeptical replies suggested they were actually rounding up immigrants for deportation. Here’s one such false claim:
They are not rescuing, they are deporting
— Olga (@Olgago1101) August 29, 2017
“In the rare instance where local law enforcement informs ICE of a serious criminal alien at a relief site that presents a public safety threat, ICE will make a determination on a case-by-case basis about the appropriate enforcement actions,” according to FEMA’s statement.
FEMA says the Red Cross also doesn’t ask for identification for those using its shelters. “The Federal Government strongly encourages all persons to follow the guidance of local officials and seek shelter regardless of their immigration status,” according to the agency.
“I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what your status is,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday. “I do not want you to run the risk of losing your life or [that of] a family member because you’re concerned about [Senate Bill] 4 or anything else.”
The state Senate bill, which goes into effect Sept. 1, outlaws “sanctuary cities” in the state and allows state and local law enforcement officers to check immigration status. Turner, who is a lawyer, even said he would personally represent any illegal immigrant who faces deportation for seeking shelter during the storm, Fox News reported.
During the first months of the Trump administration, ICE has come under criticism for detaining people appearing in court on unrelated matters, including at least one victim of domestic violence, leading to calls for them to refrain from making immigration arrests in courthouses.
FEMA also warns Harvey victims that, contrary to rumors, the agency does not charge for services such as damage inspections or contractor repairs. To deter scam artists posing as government officials, aid workers or insurance company employees, the government warns people to ask for identification and not to “sign anything you don’t understand or contracts with blank spaces.” Additionally, “don’t be afraid to hang up on cold callers.”