Houston's Mayor "Stands Up With" Undocumented Immigrants Seeking Hurricane Relief

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During a recent press conference, Sylvester Turner, Houston's mayor, vowed that he would represent any immigrant who potentially faced deportation after seeking shelter and safety from Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

At the press conference on Monday, Turner stressed the importance of people calling for help if they need it, emphasizing that undocumented immigrants should not be featful of seeking assistance. Turner noted,

There is absolutely no reason [why you shouldn't seek help] ... I and others will be the first ones to stand up with you ... If you need help and someone comes and they require help, and then for some reason, then somebody tries to deport them, I will represent them myself, okay?

Turner's comments came in response to a question at the press conference about SB4, a recently-established law in Texas that purports to ban "sanctuary jurisdictions," which is supposed to go into effect on Friday. The law would prohibit law enforcement officials from stopping an immigration official from asking about an individual's status during an arrest.

However, according to the Texas Tribune, the implementation of the law could be delayed if a federal judge approves an injunction, since several Texas cities and counties are currently involved in a suit questioning the law's constitutionality.

Turner also commented directly on the law and encouraged immigrants not to avoid seeking safety because of it, saying,

I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what your status is. I do not want you to run the risk of losing your life or [that of] a family member because you’re concerned about SB 4 or anything else.

On the federal level, The Hill noted that U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reportedly said last week that saving lives would constitute its foremost priority during Harvey — not seeking deportations.

Furthermore, as The Hill reported, the agencies stated that they would not be conducting immigration screenings at relief shelters, saying "Routine noncriminal immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at evacuation sites, or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks ...[However], the laws will not be suspended, and we will be vigilant against any effort by criminals to exploit disruptions caused by the storm.”

The Texas Tribune also reported that, in addition to the mayor, other Texas government officials actively encouraged immigrants to seek assistance if necessary. For example State Rep. Armando Walle, a Democrat from Houston, tweeted in Spanish that, “It’s urgent that if you have an opportunity to leave, that you do so ... Your immigration status has nothing to do with it."

Ideally, the reassurances provided by Turner and other Texas officials will make immigrants who are concerned about SB4 comfortable enough to seek shelter and emergency assistance if they need it. Moreover, hopefully no one will be deported or have their immigration status evaluated during relief efforts. However, if this does occur, Turner should remain true to his words — and will certainly have many people holding him accountable to make sure this happens.