Agency says getting all people, legal and illegal, to safety is its top priority
By Jim Forsyth
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
The U.S. Border Patrol said today it is not checking the documents of individuals who are fleeing Hurricane Dolly, and it has no intention of using natural disasters as a pretext for rounding up and deporting illegal immigrants, 1200 WOAI news reports.
Officials in the Rio Grande Valley have been worried about Border Patrol actions ever since a reporter spotted a Border Patrol official conducting a document check during a hurricane evacuation drill in McAllen in May. Some officials had expressed concern that Rio Grande Valley residents, many of whom have relatives who are undocumented, would decline to evacuate if they knew a relative could be deported.
"Our goal is to make sure that people understand that we are not going to stop people from boarding modes of evacuation to check their citizenship or anything like that," Border Patrol Agent Lloyd Easterling told 1200 WOAI news. "We will not...will not..be impeding anybody who needs to be evacuated."
Easterling says the check points at Sarita and Falfurrias, which everybody driving north from the Rio Grande Valley have to pass through to leave the Valley, are open and are operating today, but there are no indications that any large number of people are leaving the Rio Grande Valley. Hundreds have left their homes, but they are seeking shelter inland in the Valley, in San Benito, Weslaco, and Edinburg.
"As members of that community, we are going to be out there making sure that people of all nationalities are safe and those lives are preserved. That's what our mission is."
Easterling said in the event of a major evacuation from the Rio Grande Valley, the officers in charge of the checkpoints would not impede traffic by checking documents.
But Easterling said the law enforcement aspect of the Border Patrol's work will continue. If the Border Patrol sees a 'wanted felon' or is told by another police agencies that a wanted individual is in an evacuation area, that person will be arrested. But he says the agency will not be entering evacuation busses or checking the papers of streams of evacuees at the checkpoints.
"We're going to be down there in a support role to help people get out of the impact zone, and get them into areas were they are safe, and their lives are not imperiled," he said.