Gulf Coast, TX and LA — President Trump’s contentious crackdown on illegal immigration arguably reached a new nadir this weekend, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials abandoned dozens of immigrant women and children at a bus station in San Antonio, Texas — one of multiple stories emerging from the annihilation wrought by Hurricane Harvey, as it lingers over the Gulf coast for a second time.
Amid ferocious winds and a merciless torrent from the tumultuous skies of Hurricane Harvey — and after having been warned not to do so — immigration officials deposited at least fifty asylum-seekers in a Greyhound bus station Friday morning, after service was discontinued due to the ominous weather, BuzzFeed reported.
Worse — and, astonishingly, there is something — having arrived in Houston primarily from points in Central America via a brief detention with immigration officials, none among the sizable group spoke English, nor were they provided with any essentials or direction to navigate a foreign city during a hurricane.
“Knowing that, they just dropped them off,” railed Barbie Hurtado, a community organizer for immigrant legal assistance nonprofit, RAICES.
“These are women and children who have been released from family detention with no money, cell phones, and don’t speak English,” she continued, adding Representative Lloyd Doggett told immigration enforcement on Thursday not to drop the group of newly released detainees at the San Antonio station the following day.
In response to a query from BuzzFeed on the appalling predicament faced by the newcomers to a strange land, ICE issued a statement through a spokesperson on Sunday, asserting,
“All of the aliens who were transferred to the San Antonio Greyhound bus station by ICE on Friday morning had confirmed tickets and itineraries to their destinations. Throughout the process, ICE remained in close contact with bus officials to ensure bus availability, and all aliens had confirmed bus transportation at the time at which ICE officers departed the station. Ultimately, ICE kept two additional families in custody since their bus trip had been cancelled.”
According to the outlet, the “spokesperson declined to answer whether buses were running when the families were dropped off. ICE declined to give the time the families’ buses were scheduled to deport or when they dropped the immigrants off at the bus station, but said it was Friday morning.”
Doggett first claimed he instructed immigration enforcement agents not to disembark any asylum-seekers at that location, but told BuzzFeed ICE assured him all would be swiftly departing the station and not left to their own devices for any significant period of time,
“But for more than 50, it did,” he opined. “Especially during this natural disaster, all families deserve respect and safety. Fortunately, those who were left waiting with nothing were helped by the goodness of our neighbors and the leadership of the Interfaith Welcome Coalition. Most have now been able to depart.”
Hurricane Harvey demolished flood records in at least 17 river recording stations monitored by the National Weather Service, and pulverized the continental U.S. record for rainfall during a tropical cyclone at Cedar Bayou near Highlands, Texas, with 51.88 inches, as of 3 p.m. local time, Tuesday. According to the New York Times, quoting Jeffrey Lindner, a meteorologist for the Harris County Flood Control District — which covers Houston — between 25 and 30 percent of the 1,800 or so square miles of land comprising Harris County had flooded, as of Tuesday.
This storm system — which developed so quickly, chaotically, and formidably, even seasoned meteorologists had difficulty predicting its path and estimating total destruction — decimated the region, leaving 30 dead at last count, and pitted the inefficiencies and injustices of the State against the cooperative instinct of civilians in rescue and evacuation efforts.
Harvey’s rapid strengthening caught off guard emergency officials, leaving the Federal Emergency Management Agency spinning its wheels in red tape and attempting a laborious law-and-order rescue model, where a makeshift effort of the able-bodied potentially could have saved more lives.
Indeed, the Cajun Navy — a loose term applied to a number of similar civilian groups cobbled together over the years since 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, using privately-owned vessels and two-way communication to rescue civilians trapped by flooding — deployed immediately from locations in Louisiana to assist Texas victims. Some of the units, which have a heavy military veteran presence, had the fortune of law enforcement escorts to expedite their services, while unconfirmed reports from the scene suggested FEMA and other law enforcement and government entities were prohibiting civilian rescue patrols, threatening violators with arrest.
By early on Wednesday, it seemed at least FEMA had relaxed nearly all ordinary precautions for any able-bodied volunteers to assist in the massive operation — though the gesture doubtless drew little more than dismissal from harried volunteers, weary of dodging authorities to launch boats in the effort, as social media indicated.
As the first effects of the hurricane began brushing coastal Texas, U.S. Customs and Border Protection vowed not to abandon checkpoints — some of them, inland 100 miles — unless the situation left no choice, stating, according to the Texas Tribune on Thursday,
“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.
“The Border Patrol is a law enforcement agency and we will not abandon our law enforcement duties.”
This report only compiled fears among immigrant and minority communities, as social media circulated both documented and unconfirmed accounts of roundups, papers checkpoints, and detentions following rescues — leaving some desperate families refusing life-saving services and assistance from official sources.
Finally, the City of Houston was forced to release a brief statement on Twitter, perhaps in deference to continued life-saving efforts and to quell fears immigrants legal and otherwise would be herded into detention or deported, declaring,
“WE WILL NOT ASK FOR IMMIGRATION STATUS OR PAPERS AT ANY SHELTER. No vamos a pedir documentos ni estatus migratorio en ningun albergue.”
WE WILL NOT ASK FOR IMMIGRATION STATUS OR PAPERS AT ANY SHELTER. No vamos a pedir documentos ni estatus migratorio en ningun albergue
— City of Houston (@HoustonTX) August 29, 2017
Cynical Twitterers responded in volume their disgust with the bungled emergency operations, expressing vehement doubts about the government’s intentions following the need for shelter. One keen advocate and educator pointed out the city’s announcement theoretically protected those here illegally or who lost papers to the hurricane to the point of arriving and staying in shelter — but likely not should they then attempt to leave. No response to this critical omission had yet appeared from city officials by press time.
A joint statement from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and CPB fared no better to alleviate anger and reticence, judging by responses from social media. It follows:
The Trump administration’s insistence to uphold the letter of its controversial new immigration policies amid a deadly, leviathan storm — and the probable contrary, in 50 people left defenseless at a bus station — have exhausted the patience of many Texans, Louisianans, activists, and volunteers forced to cope with unnecessary obstacles and counterproductive practices needlessly endangering of human lives.
As Houston — as well as the rest of affected locations in Texas and areas along coastal Louisiana, where Harvey made landfall for the second time as a tropical storm — begin to assess losses, recoup health, and decide where or if to rebuild, let there be no harbored doubts the U.S. government and Trump administration, specifically, made abundantly limpid its concerns during the record-breaking force still lingering over Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico.
Sadly, those shamefully threadbare concerns — and an implicit hierarchy on the value of life assigned by skin color and nationality — bear little resemblance, whatsoever, to the welcoming words of Emma Lazarus enshrined on the Statue of Liberty.
To the unofficial residents of areas impacted by Harvey, the estimated costliest storm in U.S. history, “tempest-tossed” tragically tells more of the government’s treatment of human beings in a life-or-death emergency than does it of the tempest, itself.