October 2, 2022
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Harvey leaves undocumented immigrants high and dry

As the winds of Hurricane Harvey die down in Houston, leaving behind one of the worst floods in U.S. history, the approximately 600,000 undocumented immigrants who live in the city find themselves in the eye of a different storm.

Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, assured undocumented immigrants they would not be questioned, searched or detained at shelters. Turner also said undocumented immigrants should not let the threat of Senate Bill 4 (SB4) – a law that bans sanctuary cities such as Houston and forces police officers to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement regulations (ICE) – prevent them from looking for shelter or food.

Yet there were still 200 government immigration agents deployed into Houston to aid in relief efforts. ICE and Customs and Border Protection released a joint statement saying that they would not be targeting anyone at evacuation sites, but that doesn’t take away the degree of fear.

In the short term, undocumented immigrants are safe in Houston from being detained, questioned and asked for papers when trying to find a place to sleep, in theory at least.

In the long term, however, undocumented immigrants in Houston are far from protected. Those displaced by the storm are most likely going to have to rebuild their homes and lives with limited assistance from the government.

Tom Bossert, President Donald Trump’s homeland security advisor, said undocumented immigrants who have been displaced by the hurricane would not likely receive the same amount of aid as everyone else. He emphasized that American taxes would be used in very minimal amounts when it comes to helping undocumented immigrants in the long term.

Assuming providing shelter and food for a few nights will be sufficient aid for undocumented immigrants is unrealistic. As soon as shelters start clearing out, some undocumented immigrants will have no home to go back to and no help from the government to rebuild further.

Saying the government will not provide equal amounts of aid to undocumented immigrants after a hurricane is systematic discrimination — plain and simple. Once things in Houston start calming down, Texas’ focus will return to SB4, which would mean undocumented immigrants would not only be rebuilding their homes on their own, but they might not even get the chance to do so in the first place.

Isabella Grullón Paz can be reached at or via Twitter: @isagp23