The United States Border Patrol said checkpoints will remain active during Hurricane Harvey, even though several areas along the coast have already been evacuated as Texas prepared for the biggest storm in almost 20 years. Immigrants who pass through the checkpoints can face expedited deportation if they’re found without legal documents within 100 miles of the border.

The Texas Tribune printed this statement from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP): “Border Patrol checkpoints will not be closed unless there is a danger to the safety of the traveling public and our agents. Border Patrol resources, including personnel and transportation, will be deployed on an as needed basis to augment the efforts and capabilities of local-response authorities. …”

Immigration advocates were quick to condemn federal officials for a move that may have drastic repercussions for undocumented residents seeking safety from the hurricane. But CBP public affairs officer Roberto Rodriguez told the Tribune: “We’re not going to impede anybody getting out of here, but at the same time we’re a law enforcement agency, so we still have to conduct our duties.”

The ACLU of Texas released several statements about the danger of prioritizing policy over safety:

Lorella Praeli, American Civil Liberties Union director of immigration policy and campaigns, said:

“As people seek refuge from hurricane Harvey, they are likely to have to go north or west of Texas and would have to go through a checkpoint. By keeping checkpoints open, the Border Patrol is putting undocumented people and mixed-status families at risk out of fear of deportations.

“This is a disgusting move from the Border Patrol that breaks with past practices. The Border Patrol should never keep checkpoints open during any natural disasters in the United States. Everyone, no matter the color of their skin or background, is worth saving.”

Astrid Dominguez, ACLU of Texas policy strategist, said:

“At a time of emergency, CBP must prioritize safety for everyone who lives in Texas. It is unconscionable that the Border Patrol is sending a dangerous, wrong message to our community by refusing to temporarily suspend immigration enforcement during an evacuation, as they did in 2016 and 2012. We call on CBP to put public safety first and ensure that, no matter their status, families who wish to leave the area can do so unimpeded.”

Chron reported there is precedent for halting the checkpoints, as CBP did in 2012 and 2016. Clara Long, senior U.S. researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Chron: “The primary focus of public officials during a hurricane should be public safety, not forcing Texas residents to choose between possible separation from their families and being caught in what could be a natural disaster.”

CBP released a joint statement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, saying routine immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at assistance centers such as shelters or food banks.

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