This morning I attended a press conference in front of the McAllen, Texas Border Patrol office.
The event, timed to mark the beginning of the Rio Grande Valley’s infamous “hurricane season,” was organized to demand that the Border Patrol make public their policy about hurricane evacuations: Specifically, in the event of a hurricane evacuation, will the Border Patrol be checking evacuees’ IDs, trying to figure out who is in the country legally and who is not?
If the Border Patrol does not tell the public whether it will check IDs, then many undocumented immigrants and their family members can be expected to remain in the Valley in the event of a hurricane, risking being killed by the flooding to avoid deportation or imprisonment.
Chanting “What do we want? Answers!”, those organizing the press conference demanded to know which the Border Patrol values more: capturing undocumented immigrants or protecting human life? Unfortunately, the answer is pretty clearly the former. For over a year, the Border Patrol has refused activists and lawyers' requests that it make its hurricane evacuation policy public.
In an area of the country where there have been many terrifying ICE "raids" on immigrant neighborhoods and where the border is highly militarized, a veritable police state, a hurricane would be the kind of disaster the Border Patrol and ICE would exploit to round up even more immigrants and create even more fear. (If you're interested in the connection between disasters and police states, Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism is a fun read.)
The press conference was sponsored by a wide variety of groups in the Rio Grande Valley, including LUPE (La Union del Pueblo Entero/Union of the Entire People, the community activist arm of the United Farm Workers Union), a pro bono immigration lawyers' group (Texas RioGrande Legal Aid), and Valley-based organization CASA (Coalition of Amigos in Solidarity and Action). Other groups nationally have joined in signing a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, demanding that the Border Patrol release its hurricane evacuation policy to the public.
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This is not the first time that the Valley's vulnerability to hurricanes has been a major topic of concern among social justice activists here. A number of hurricane-related controversies have arisen over the last couple of years.
Last summer, in the rush to complete the construction of the U.S./Mexico border wall in the Valley before the new Presidential administration could take office, levies along the border were demolished--at the height of hurricane season, no less--to allow the wall to be more swiftly built. During that time, the Valley was left especially vulnerable to a potential hurricane disaster of catastrophic proportions.
The construction of the border wall has also raised concerns that in the event of a hurricane, the water surging up from the southern part of the Gulf Coast, from Mexico, would be pushed back into Mexico, causing major flooding and deaths in Mexican border towns. (Along much of the border, the wall is not just a “fence,” but is composed of high concrete or metal panels, appearing much like the wall in Palestine.) A recent flood in Mexico has already caused controversy, as the wall seems to have exacerbated the damage.