Forcing the Border Patrol to Answer a Question

By Nick Braune
Mid-Valley Town Crier
by permission

A petition was filed in federal court this July with a very simple request. Please instruct the Border Patrol to answer this question: Are you going to be conducting immigration ID checks in the event of a hurricane evacuation? It’s a very good question. If tens of thousands of cars start leaving the Valley together and crowds arrive at the bus stations, won’t there be huge lines while IDs are checked? And what if I can’t find my ID? I interviewed someone working on the issue, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, Corinna Spencer-Scheurich.

Nick Braune: The Monitor reported that a number of groups, including LUPE and Brownsville’s Proyecto Digna, have filed a suit to find out evacuation procedures and policies. One lawyer was quoted as saying that the Border Patrol is being “reckless” and that they would be “creating a danger for everyone” if they start asking people for identification during an evacuation. Are those comments too strong?

Corinna Spencer-Scheurich: No, I don’t think they are too strong. Border Patrol is being reckless because the most important thing in advance of a disaster is to have a plan that everyone knows. We saw what happened when Houston residents tried to evacuate before Hurricane Rita. It took more than 24 hours for people to reach Dallas. Only half of the residents ended up evacuating. Luckily the main force of Rita did not hit Houston. What is clear is that in the event of a hurricane evacuation, everyone needs to be prepared and we have to get people to safety as quickly as possible.

Can you imagine the additional hold up at the Falfurrias checkpoint if Border Patrol is checking IDs? Holiday weekends are bad enough! And some people will not evacuate, risking harm, because they know they might run out of gas because of the gridlock or because they might have other problems. People who might have trouble proving their immigration status or have family members with that problem are also not going to flee. This is a humanitarian disaster waiting to happen.

Braune: Is it really necessary to go to a judge on this? Won’t the Border Patrol answer its phone and explain its evacuation procedures?

Spencer-Scheurich: We have asked several times in many different ways. We even asked again before we filed this lawsuit. I don’t think that the Border Patrol has realized the potential devastation that it might cause by not being clear and not working with the community on a humane evacuation plan.

Braune: If the judge rules on your side, what would be a possible next step?

Spencer-Scheurich: It depends on what Border Patrol’s plan is. If the Border Patrol will step aside in the face of an impending natural disaster, then the community groups who are plaintiffs in this case, like LUPE and Proyecto Digna, will be able to work with their members to help assure that we don’t have a loss of human life. But if the plan is to stop everyone evacuating and check their ID at the checkpoints, then we have some constitutional issues to grapple with.

Why are they only checking here in advance of a natural disaster and not in Florida or Louisiana? We believe that would be a violation of constitutional rights to Equal Protection based on national origin discrimination. It also might cause a deprivation of life, liberty and property in violation of the 5th Amendment. Once we know their plan we will take action accordingly.

Braune: In my column, I denounced the recent Postville, Iowa immigration raid as mean-spirited and confrontational. And I think Homeland Security’s push for the Border Wall, when our Valley is overwhelmingly opposed to it, has the same mean, confrontational quality. Do you think the Border Patrol’s tactics (demanding identification during the mock evacuation drill earlier this year) and the general “zero-tolerance” Operation Streamline are intentionally vicious?

Spencer-Scheurich: It is sad but true. I believe that immigration policy is being set for purely political reasons. It is being determined without regard to the experience that people have in their communities, without an understanding of the economic and social costs, and without even taking into account that similar policies have not worked in the past. It is shameful and hateful. I think we will look back at this period like we do to the days of segregation and Jim Crow laws, 19th Century treatment of Irish immigrants, and the Japanese internment camps during WWII. I just hope that by saying “enough is enough,” the nonprofit organizations in this lawsuit will be able to help their members, no matter what their immigration status is, to avoid life-threatening danger.

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