Climate Change and the Deportation Machine: A Match Forged In Hell, Hurricane Harvey Edition

Undocumented Texans in Hurricane Harvey’s path face a horrifying choice: deportation or risk of death.

Kate Aronoff August 25, 2017

Playwrights Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank with Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.

The Unit­ed States Bor­der Patrol is going to keep its Rio Grande Val­ley check­points active in Texas through the dura­tion of Hur­ri­cane Har­vey unless there is a dan­ger to the safe­ty of the trav­el­ing pub­lic and our agents,” accord­ing to a state­ment from the agency. 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,” a Cus­toms and Bor­der Patrol (CBP) offi­cial elab­o­rat­ed. As the agency lat­er clar­i­fied, so long as high­ways are open check­points will be too.

Wide­spread evac­u­a­tions have been issued in sev­er­al East Texas coun­ties in advance of the now Cat­e­go­ry 3 storm, which could bring a year’s worth of rain to the Gulf of Mex­i­co over the course of just three or four days. The may­or of Cor­pus Christi is strong­ly encour­ag­ing res­i­dents of his city to leave the area. A state of dis­as­ter has already been declared in 30 coun­ties by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Nation­al Weath­er Ser­vice in Texas has said that large parts of South­east Texas could be unin­hab­it­able for weeks or months.” Many — includ­ing Fed­er­al Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency admin­is­tra­tor Brock Long — pre­dict this could be the most dam­ag­ing hur­ri­cane the Unit­ed States has dealt with since 2005.

Giv­en all this, thou­sands of undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants who live in Harvey’s path may now be faced with a hor­ri­fy­ing choice: Stay put and risk death, or evac­u­ate and risk deportation.

In a state­ment, Lorel­la Praeli, the Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union’s (ACLU) direc­tor of immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy and cam­paigns, called the deci­sion a dis­gust­ing move.” ACLU of Texas pol­i­cy strate­gist Astrid Dominguez said, 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,” ref­er­enc­ing the agency’s actions in advance of Hur­ri­canes Matthew and Isaac. (Hur­ri­cane shel­ters in Texas, mean­while, won’t be ask­ing about the immi­gra­tion sta­tus of those seek­ing refuge.)

The CBP announce­ment — and Har­vey itself — come rough­ly a week before Texas is set to crack down on Sanc­tu­ary Cities” through the Sep­tem­ber 1 imple­men­ta­tion of Sen­ate Bill 4, which gives police offi­cers the author­i­ty to ask about immi­gra­tion sta­tus dur­ing rou­tine stops for traf­fic vio­la­tions and oth­er minor infrac­tions. Under the same mea­sure, law enforce­ment offi­cials can face crim­i­nal charges for non-com­pli­ance with fed­er­al immi­gra­tion author­i­ties. SB 4 was signed into law by Abbott in May amid mas­sive protests. Since then, sev­er­al cities around the state have signed onto a law­suit chal­leng­ing the bill’s legality.

What­ev­er the ulti­mate fate of SB 4, the junc­ture of extreme weath­er and extreme immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy like­ly to play out in Texas over the com­ing weeks high­lights one of the more unset­tling real­i­ties of cli­mate change. The hell­ish nature of that cri­sis means tides and tem­per­a­tures will rise as storms grow more extreme. All of the above could hap­pen in a polit­i­cal real­i­ty where bor­ders are mil­i­ta­rized, wealth inequal­i­ty is at his­toric highs and the econ­o­my is harsh­ly strat­i­fied along racial lines.

Climb­ing tem­per­a­tures, in oth­er words, stand to make every­thing that’s already bad even worse. Hur­ri­cane Har­vey may just be a small sign of what’s to come.

Kate Aronoff is a Brook­lyn-based jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing cli­mate and U.S. pol­i­tics, and a con­tribut­ing writer at The Inter­cept. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @katearonoff.
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