Concerned about Border Patrol’s role in emergency situations

WASHINGTON, DC – Leaders of the nation’s major Latino and Asian American civil rights organizations reacted sharply today to reports that the Border Patrol will check the documents of residents of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas in the event of a hurricane evacuation before they are allowed to board evacuation buses.

“This is a shocking and dangerous initiative which will undercut the authorities’ efforts to keep everyone safe during a crisis,” said Janet Murguía, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR). “We have written to Secretary Chertoff, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, asking that this initiative be suspended immediately.”

Noting that persons who fail to present documents will be put on separate buses and taken to immigration detention facilities, John Trasviña, President of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), added, “Most Americans don’t carry their birth certificates or passports with them, particularly when they’re leaving their homes in a hurry. Many U.S. citizens will be subjected to the added trauma of proving that they belong in their own country at a time when they are fleeing for their lives.”

“The government’s plan to use hurricane evacuation as a tool to try to round up undocumented immigrants is unconscionable,” said Karen K. Narasaki, President and Executive Director of the Asian American Justice Center.

“Immigrant families already have a fear and distrust of government officials. This will make it much harder for local government officials to convince people of the need to evacuate to save lives and will endanger not only the immigrant communities but further burden those agencies entrusted with evacuation, rescue, and relief operations,” added Narasaki.

Rosa Rosales, President of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), noted a comment from Border Patrol official Dan Doty, who is quoted in the Rio Grande Guardian saying that agents “are very good at picking up on things that would lead them to believe that somebody isn’t a U.S. citizen or does not have legal residence.” Rosales said, “This is a recipe for racial profiling which will undercut the security of thousands of Latino families in the Valley.”

Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), concluded by urging the authorities not to undercut the safety of the public. “The federal government should be focused first and foremost on keeping people safe in times of crisis. By undercutting disaster relief efforts in this way, the Administration is undercutting the safety and security of all Americans.”

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