HOUSTON (AP) – Immigration advocates are turning to social media and visiting shelters to tell Harvey evacuees who are in the country illegally to put their personal safety above fears of being deported.
A sharp increase in immigration arrests under President Donald Trump and Texas’ tough law against cities that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities had created an uneasy climate even before Harvey struck. Houston has about 600,000 people in the country illegally, the third-largest in the nation, behind New York and Los Angeles.
An organizer at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston got mixed responses after telling evacuees not to worry about immigration agents on the streets during the crisis and to have family members apply for federal disaster aid if they are U.S. citizens.
A Honduran woman told him she was considering leaving the United States with her three children. A Mexican woman said she was scared to leave the massive, makeshift shelter.
The Trump administration is trying to assure victims of Harvey living in the country illegally that they will not be targeted as they try to access emergency services — as long as they haven’t committed other crimes.
Trump’s Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert says “no individual human being should worry about their immigration status unless they’ve committed a crime on top of coming here illegally when it comes to getting food, water and shelter.”
He also says no routine sweeps will be conducted in emergency shelters.
Still, he says people living in the country illegally should not expect long-term federal assistance reserved for citizens.
He says, “I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of benefits going out to illegal immigrants.”