Hurricane Florence Left Devastating Flooding In Its Wake But Undocumented Residents Are Too Fearful To Seek Help

credit: Joe Raedle / Getty

As Hurricane Florence was nearing the east coast many residents had generic fears of their homes and communities. Yet, beyond the physical destruction the storm caused, many North Carolina residents feared the loss of their loved ones. Not due to death by the storm, but due to separation by immigration officials. This fear was likely stoked by Border Patrol’s reluctance to shutter immigration checkpoints in Texas as Hurricane Harvey neared landfall. Border Patrol relented during Hurricane Harvey after mounting pressure from the public.

Undocumented immigrants in North Carolina faced mounting fear in the face of Hurricane Florence as many feared immigration officials.

Stories from Hurricane Harvey and Border Patrol trying to enforce immigration checkpoints have lingered in the undocumented immigrant psyche. The immigration officials in Texas gave in and allowed everyone to evacuate without fear of immigration checkpoints. Those fears in North Carolina’s undocumented community was exacerbated because North Carolina is one of few states with a 287(g) program. The 287(g) program allows for local law enforcement officials to enter into partnerships with federal immigration officers to detain and transfer undocumented people to detention centers.

“My worry was when someone said, ‘If you go to shelters, you have to be careful,’ someone told me they weren’t accepting people who were undocumented. But if they went, they would run the risk of being taken [from] there, and I didn’t want to run the risk with my kids,” Iris, an undocumented immigrant in North Carolina told NBC News.

This has been an overwhelming fear for people like Iris as countless undocumented immigrants have been deported from their families this year.

Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, the city where Iris lives, said they only wants people to be safe and nobody should be afraid to get help because of their immigration status.

“Whatever happens in respect to if there’s anybody illegal, we don’t care about that,” Saffo told NBC News. “What we care about is the preservation of life.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent out a tweet saying if an individual is undocumented they shouldn’t have any worries because ICE agents “promised there won’t be sweeps” as Hurricane Florence approached. Regardless of ICE’s promise to suspend activities in light of the hurricane, the American Red Cross has made it clear it will not abide by any requests by officials to see the immigration papers of people seeking shelter.

North Carolina is one of few states that pioneered police collaboration with ICE called 287(g) programs, which allow state and local authorities to partner with immigration officials.

Now that Hurricane Florence has passed many undocumented people like Iris are afraid to seek help from emergency response agents. In an interview with Democracy Now, Laura Garduño García, a DACA recipient and North Carolina resident, said emergency response agents are coming to the state in Customs and Border Patrol vehicles and uniforms. This has caused some uneasiness among undocumented residents and in no way creates trust between community members and the federal agencies.

“It is just appalling, the total disregard to community members who are facing the devastation following the storm to then come out looking for help or looking for supplies to take back to their homes and then find everywhere in the eastern part of the state Customs and Border Patrol vehicles,” García said. “It is totally unacceptable, and FEMA should not be engaging in these tactics.”

At least 43 people have died in storm-related incidents in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia since the hurricane made landfall on Sept. 14.


READ: Trump Administration Transferred Nearly $10 Million From FEMA To ICE For Detention Programs

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