Border Patrol will keep checkpoints north of the border open during Hurricane Harvey

Undocumented, vulnerable families may fracture while trying to flee — or worse, die for fear of getting deported

Published August 25, 2017 4:31PM (EDT)

 (AP Photo/The Monitor, Gabe Hernandez)
(AP Photo/The Monitor, Gabe Hernandez)

U.S. Border Patrol announced Thursday that, despite the approach of Hurricane Harvey, roadside immigration checkpoints north of the border would remain open as thousands evacuate from coastal areas, according to the Texas Tribune.

"Border Patrol checkpoints will not be closed unless there is a danger to the safety of the traveling public and our agents. Border Patrol resources, including personnel and transportation, will be deployed on an as needed basis to augment the efforts and capabilities of local-response authorities," the agency said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) quickly opposed the Border Patrol's decision, arguing that it puts undocumented and mixed-status immigrants at serious risk. "As people seek refuge from hurricane Harvey, they are likely to have to go north or west of Texas and would have to go through a checkpoint," Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns for the ACLU, explained. "By keeping checkpoints open, the Border Patrol is putting undocumented people and mixed-status families at risk out of fear of deportations."

The ACLU also stated that this Border Patrol tactic "breaks with past practices," though this is not the first time the Border Patrol has done something like this. In 2008, when the state of Texas was hit hard by Hurricane Dolly, the Border Patrol's checkpoints trapped families in some of Texas's poorest communities.

As the Texas Observer wrote in a 2009 article:

As undocumented immigrants, Susanna and Raul felt they had no choice. In May, a U.S. Border Patrol spokesperson had told local media outlets that immigration checkpoints about 80 miles north of the border would continue operating during a storm. The agency later said it would “not impede evacuations,” but during Dolly, when evacuation was voluntary, agents stopped every vehicle headed out of South Texas. Susanna and Raul knew that if the family evacuated, they would be asked about their citizenship before continuing to Austin or San Antonio. (The family asked that their last name not be used because of deportation concerns.)

The Border Patrol's policy may be contingent on the severity of a storm. Just last year, when a mass evacuation was ordered for Hurricane Matthew, immigration security measures were suspended, the Texas Tribune reported. Border Patrol checkpoints were also suspended in 2012 during Hurricane Isaac.

The ACLU and ACLU Texas did not respond when asked to comment on the history of the Border Patrol practices.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has urged citizens to evacuate from coastal areas while they still can. Abbott said that the impending storm "has turned into a very complex and dangerous hurricane," according to the Washington Post.

"Even if an evacuation order hasn’t been issued by your local official," Abbott exhorted, "if you’re in an area between Corpus Christi and Houston you need to strongly consider evacuating."

"Let’s set the expectations: Texas is about to have a very significant disaster. And we have to let people know that," William Long, President Trump's appointee to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said.

By Charlie May

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Aclu Aclu Texas Border Patrol Border Patrol Agents Gov. Greg Abbott Hurricane Harvey Texas