Sunday, August 31, 2008
We sometimes criticize the policies of the Department of Homeland Security. We just received a press release that, at least in my view, seems like welcome news::
Immigrant workers demanding a safe evacuation from the path of Hurricane Gustav received key assurances from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that no immigration enforcement actions or checkpoints would occur in the evacuation process or along evacuation routes. The New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice gained the assurances for safe passage of immigrant workers just as mandatory evacuations began across the Gulf Coast. The exact agreement is below.
As Gustav approached, immigrant workers and their families feared evacuation due to anticipation over Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints. Of the over 200 surveys of day laborers which the Workers' Center conducted as Hurricane Gustav approached, the fear of detention and deportation by DHS was identified as the single greatest obstacle to accessing humanitarian relief. "We want to take our families to safety. We should not have to face deportation as we escape from the storm" said Dennis Soriano, an organizer with the Congress of Day Laborers.
Hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers arrived in the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to assist in the reconstruction of New Orleans and other cities. However, even as they were contributing to the rebuilding efforts, they faced extraordinary abuse, including high levels of wage theft, police brutality and massive immigration raids.
"This agreement would be the first clear assurance of safety from the federal government to immigrant workers who came to the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Katrina" said Saket Soni, Director of the Workers' Center. "It's a small victory on the path to a humane and just relief effort."
Despite these assurances, immigrant workers and their advocates expressed concern about the treatment immigrants would receive in the relief effort. "Once we have evacuated safely, will DHS come to the shelters?" asked Soriano; "When we are returning home to rebuild the city, will we face DHS checkpoints on our way back?"
"We hope that these public assurances from DHS will be the first step towards a Memorandum of Understanding that clearly establishes what we all know: there's no place for immigration enforcement in humanitarian relief" said Jennifer Rosenbaum, Counsel to the Workers' Center. Ms. Rosenbaum has represented hundreds of immigrant workers in post-Katrina New Orleans efforts.
Soni said immigrant workers would continue to fight for access to the relief. "Just like everyone else who was forced to leave, immigrant workers and their families want to stay safe in the shelters, and they want to come home to New Orleans and help rebuild their city."
The New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice is a membership based organization that works with African-American and immigrant workers in the post-Katrina landscape.
AUGUST 31, 2008
DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
OFFICE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES
· All residents of the Gulf Coast region need to evacuate.
· There are no immigration enforcement operations, and there are no
immigration enforcement checkpoints associated with the evacuations.
· The Department of Homeland Security's top priorities in any emergency are life-saving and life-sustaining activities, preventing the loss of property to the extent possible, and assisting with a speedy recovery of the affected region.
· Todos los residentes del la región de la Costa del Golfo deben evacuar.
· No hay operacions de inmigración, y no hay puntos de inmigración asociados con las evacuaciones.
· Las prioridades mas altas del Departamento de Seguridad Nacional (DHS por sus siglas en Ingles) en cualquier emergencia son las de salvar y sostener la vida, preevenir la pérdida de propiedad lo tanto posible, y asistir con la recuperación de la región afectada.
POSTSCRIPT News reports suggest that many undocumenyed immigrants stayed behind when Gustav struck because they were afraid of being arrested if they attempted to take buses and trains out of the region.