As Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast as a Category 4 storm and Gov. Greg Abbott authorized a massive evacuation effort, the Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) announced that its anti-immigrant agenda was more important than the safety of Texas residents.
In previous administrations, checkpoint operations ceased during natural disasters. No one checked the papers of Texans fleeing Hurricane Ike in 2008, Isaac in 2012 or Matthew in 2016. While emergency shelters and food banks are continuing to comply with this standard protocol, Border Patrol is diverging dangerously from precedent.
Announcing that its roadside checkpoints will remain open during the evacuation efforts, Border Patrol said it “will remain vigilant against any effort by criminals to exploit disruptions caused by the storm.”
Associating a marginalized group of people with “crime” to normalize discrimination is a classic racist dog whistle. Because anyone without certain documents will be deported, this blanket policy puts countless innocent people at risk.
Making matters worse, this policy change comes just four days before Texas implements its anti-immigrant Senate Bill 4. This law, which passed earlier this year, targets sanctuary cities. These municipalities, which include Houston, Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth, currently refuse to turn undocumented residents over to federal immigration officers for deportation.
The bill will punish jurisdictions that refuse to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other agencies’ demands, slapping them with fines of $25,000 a day. Moreover, the law will also legalize and normalize profiling by police.
All officers – including those on university campuses – will be allowed to question and check the immigration status of those they detain and will then be required to deliver the undocumented to ICE.
This heartless bill will reinforce a culture of fear.
And so, the government is occupying the paradoxical position of encouraging people to trust and comply with its recommendations while simultaneously giving them every reason not to do so. As Texas Sen. Sylvia Garcia said during the debate over the bill, people are going “from a broken taillight to a broken family to broken trust in the system.”
Article 13 of the International Declaration of Human Rights declares “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state,” and “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Further, Article 15 states “No one shall be arbitrarily … denied the right to change his nationality.”
International law, therefore, requires all people be allowed to travel and return safely under normal conditions. How much more should people be able to flee an emergency without fear?
Our unjust and racist immigration policies destroy lives. They tear apart families. They take away livelihoods. They force refugees back into deadly situations.
And now, they force people to choose between braving the winds and waves of a Category 4 hurricane and facing the potentially greater dangers posed by a government claiming to want to “protect” them.
Jaz Brisack is a junior general studies major from Oxford.