Houston Mayor: Undocumented Immigrants Welcome at Harvey Shelters

Houston illegal immigrants, Harvey shelters

Getty Harvey evacuees at the George Brown Convention Center in Houston.

Houston and FEMA officials debunked rumors that undocumented immigrants can’t go to Hurricane Harvey shelters or, if they do, their immigration status will be checked. If you are an undocumented immigrant, you can go to a shelter without fearing deportation. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner even said he would personally defend any undocumented immigrants deported because they sought help after the storm.

“There is absolutely no reason why anyone should not call. And I and others will be the first ones to stand up with you,” Harvey said during a Monday press conference, reports ABC News. “If someone comes and they require help and then for some reason [someone] tries to deport them, I will represent them myself.”

Harvey, an attorney, added that he doesn’t care about the background of a person in a “stressful situation,” adding, “I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what you’re religion is, I don’t care what your language is, you come and take advantage of every service that we have.”

Officials also tweeted that rumors that immigration statuses will be checked are false. “We will not ask for immigration status or papers from anyone at any shelter. This rumor is FALSE,” the tweet read.

FEMA also explained on its website under “rumor control” that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) “are not conducting immigration enforcement at relief sites such as shelters or food banks.” The agency added:

Most shelters are managed by local communities, the Red Cross, and other voluntary agencies. American Red Cross’ humanitarian mission is to feed, shelter, and provide other forms of support without regard to race, religion, or citizenship status. The Red Cross will not ask people to show any form of identification in order to stay in their shelters. In order to receive some Red Cross services, such as meeting with a caseworker to facilitate disaster recovery, they will need to verify a person’s pre-disaster address. For people who don’t have government-issued identification, the Red Cross can usually do this through alternative means, such as a copy of a utility bill.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott also confirmed to MSNBC on Friday that undocumented immigrants can go to shelters without fear of deportation.

“It’s my understanding from what I saw from the border patrol instructions yesterday that it will not be an issue,” Abbott told MSNBC. “What everyone is focused on right now is ensuring all we can to protect life. We all have a high regard for life. We want to ensure the safety of all lives and we’re prepared to take all measures to do so.”

Harvey hit Texas before the state’s Senate Bill 4 goes into effect on Friday. The bill was signed by Abbott, a Republican, earlier this year and outlaws “sanctuary cities,” cities where local police do not assist with federal deportation efforts. In June, Houston joined the lawsuit against the bill. Turner, a Democrat, said that the new law shouldn’t get in the way of recovery efforts. He asked that the law be put “on the shelf” during the storm.

“I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what your status is. I do not want you to risk losing your life or [that of] a family member because you’re concerned about SB 4 or anything else,” Turner said Monday. “Put SB4 on the shelf right now.”

ICE and CBP issued a statement on August 25, confirming that they will assist in relief efforts. “Routine non-criminal immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at evacuation sites, or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks,” the statement read. “The laws will not be suspended, and we will be vigilant against any effort by criminals to exploit disruptions caused by the storm.”

Click here for the complete list of shelters in Houston and Harris County set up with the Red Cross. You can also find a map of open Red Cross shelters at RedCross.org.

The Washington Post reports that there are 1.15 million undocumented immigrants working in Texas.