As Tropical Storm Harvey continues to ravage Texas, destroying coastal homes and businesses and causing “unprecedented flooding” in Houston, undocumented immigrants fleeing the brunt of the storm also have to contend with anxiety over possible deportation.
Gov. Greg Abbott assured reporters on Friday that individuals will not be asked about their immigration status at storm shelters, but the so-called “sanctuary cities” law, slated to go into effect on Sept. 1, has increased distrust of local government for many immigrants.
The new law allows law enforcement officers to ask about the citizenship or immigration status of anyone arrested or detained, and punishes local officials who do not comply with federal immigration authorities. Abbott signed the bill into law in May, but it could be blocked if U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia approves this week a preliminary injunction spearheaded by several cities and counties challenging its constitutionality.
As Harvey hit and stalled over Houston and other communities on and near the Texas Gulf Coast, Mexican consular officials in Texas received calls from Mexican nationals asking if it was safe to evacuate, according to Consul General of Mexico in San Antonio Reyna Torres Mendívil. In Texas alone, there are around 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute.
“For people in Corpus Christi, for example, who planned to take their cars and drive two hours to San Antonio and find refuge, there was an added danger for them as they feared being stopped and questioned on the way,” Torres said in Spanish. “But San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Gov. Greg Abbott have made it clear that saving lives is the main concern. We made sure to pass along this message of trust to our community.”
Torres commended City officials for acting quickly, efficiently, and compassionately to provide assistance to the more than 1,000 evacuees that came to San Antonio after fleeing the storm. All 11 Mexican consulates in Texas have been activated to help Mexican nationals who might have lost documents, IDs, or need to contact family members abroad, according to Torres.
“We are ensuring that they have the basics to put their lives back together,” she said, “and when people are returning home, to make sure officials accept passports, consular IDs (matrícula consular), and not ask for other documents.”
On Monday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said SB 4 should not get in the way of continuing recovery efforts. He suggested the new law be put “on the shelf” during the storm.
Meanwhile, as Harvey pummeled Texas over the weekend, President Donald Trump tweeted “Mexico will pay for the wall,” referring to his proposed border wall. He also bashed the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and threatened to terminate it. Mexico responded by offering aid and collaboration to deal with the destruction caused by Harvey.
With Mexico being one of the highest crime Nations in the world, we must have THE WALL. Mexico will pay for it through reimbursement/other.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 27, 2017
“The Mexican government has offered to provide help and cooperation to the U.S. government in order to deal with the impact of this natural disaster — as good neighbors should always do in trying times,” reads a Sunday statement from Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In 2005, a convoy of 35 olive-green Mexican Army trucks and tractor-trailers crossed the border to provide help after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Mexican soldiers served meals, distributed blankets, and conducted medical consultations, marking the first Mexican military unit to operate on U.S. soil since 1846. The troops helped feed thousands of victims and distribute clothing and other supplies. Then-President George W. Bush later met with the soldiers here to thank them.
“We all have a very positive memory of that scene of the Mexican military coming to help the victims of Katrina,” Torres told the Rivard Report. “Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray spoke to Gov. Greg Abbott to offer assistance and we are waiting to see what will be decided. As neighbors, it is our duty to help each other during difficult times.”
Even though the Mexican government hasn’t officially sent any aid, several Mexican companies that operate on both sides of the border have begun to send food and bottled water to help evacuees. On Tuesday, employees from brake pad producer Rassini traveled from Piedras Negras, Mexico to San Antonio and delivered 26,000 pounds of supplies, water, and food to the San Antonio Food Bank.
“It’s all about helping thy neighbor in a time of need,” Rassini CEO Eugenio Madero told the Rivard Report. “Our heart goes out to the people of Houston.”
Mexican officials also stated Sunday that Mexico would not pay for the wall “under any circumstances,” and that violence generated by illicit drugs is a problem shared between both countries. “Only on the basis of the principles of shared responsibility, teamwork, and mutual trust will we be able to overcome this challenge.”
Mexico, the U.S., and Canada are currently renegotiating NAFTA, with talks scheduled to resume Friday in Mexico City.
“We are in the middle of the negotiation,” Torres said. “This is not discussed through social media; it involves serious and professional teams from the three countries at the table.”
Trump arrived in Corpus Christi on Tuesday to asses the damage caused by Harvey. He plans to visit other areas affected by the storm in the coming days. The president has yet to respond to Mexico’s aid offer.
“If a need for assistance does arise, we will work with our partners, including Mexico, to determine the best way forward,” a spokesman for the U.S. State Department told the Washington Post on Monday.
More than 30,000 people are expected to be housed in shelters indefinitely due to the unrelenting flooding, according to FEMA Administrator Brock Long. Harvey could be the worst storm in Texas history measured by property damage and lost economic activity.