As Hurricane Harvey nears the Texas coast, thousands of people are evacuating along the state’s major highways to escape 125 mile per hour winds and “catastrophic flooding” that the US government predicts will accompany the storm.
In an unusual move, Border Patrol checkpoints, which check individuals’ documents to make sure they are legal residents of the US, will stay open as the storm approaches, the Customs and Border Protection agency said Friday in an emailed statement:
U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints in the path of Hurricane Harvey in Texas will close as state highways close. These closures will occur in a manner that ensures the safety of the traveling public and our agents. Border Patrol checkpoints that are outside of the path of the hurricane will remain operational. CBP will remain vigilant against any effort by criminals to exploit disruptions caused by the storm.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) highest priorities are to promote life-saving and life-sustaining activities, the safe evacuation of people who are leaving the impacted area, the maintenance of public order, the prevention of the loss of property to the extent possible, and the speedy recovery of the region. Anyone in the path of this storm should follow instructions from their local officials and heed any warnings as this dangerous storm approaches.
In previous storms, including Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Issac in 2012, the border patrol agency temporarily suspended its enforcement procedures.
Ahead of Hurricane Matthew, the Department of Homeland Security said there will be no immigration enforcement initiatives or checkpoints, because immigration and border agencies’ “highest priorities are to promote life-saving and life-sustaining activities, the safe evacuation of people who are leaving the impacted area, the maintenance of public order, the prevention of the loss of property to the extent possible, and the speedy recovery of the region.”
Hurricane Harvey is expected to make landfall on eastern Texas and impact the state’s coastal areas from the lower tip until Louisiana. Evacuation routes from the coast were already showing heavy traffic on Friday afternoon:
Several of these evacuation routes go right through Border Patrol checkpoints, including one on Route 44 in Corpus Christi and another on Route 35 heading up to San Antonio:
Civil rights activists said the new policy was cruel. It also could result in avoidable fatalities, if some families with illegal immigrant members choose not to evacuate the storm zone.
“This is a disgusting move from the Border Patrol that breaks with past practices,” American Civil Liberties Union director of immigration policy and campaigns Lorella Praeli said. “The Border Patrol should never keep checkpoints open during any natural disasters in the United States. Everyone, no matter the color of their skin or background, is worth saving.”