Immigrants Battle Deportation Fears in Harvey’s Aftermath

A U.S. Border Patrol air boat moves through neighborhood inundated by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017. John Morris, the Border Patrol’s chief of staff in South Texas, said the agency had 35 boats in the city’s flooded neighborhoods on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, and had rescued about 450 people since Monday. “The agents and the assets that are here in Houston as part of the recovery effort are absolutely 100 percent only here for rescue and safety,” Morris said. “There is no enforcement activity being undertaken while we’re doing this safety mission.” (AP Photo/LM Otero)

HOUSTON — Alain Cisneros walked past thousands of cots filled with storm victims at the Houston convention centre holding up a poster with the words, “Do you have questions?” written in Spanish in bold black letters.

He pulled up a chair next to a woman from Honduras and tried to deliver a reassuring message as the 23-year-old recounted in an exhausted voice how waters rose to her chest in her Houston apartment, forcing her to wade to safety with her three young children.

Ricxy Sanchez listened to Cisneros’ assurances that although she is in the country illegally she shouldn’t worry about being deported if she asks for help and that she should consider applying for disaster relief. With almost everything she owns destroyed in the storm, she’s thinking about moving back to violence-ravaged Honduras.

“Stay here to suffer with our children?” Sanchez asked, shaking her head.

The encounter illustrates the complexity of responding to a disaster on the magnitude of Harvey in a city where an estimated 600,000 residents are in the country illegally and immigrants have been on edge amid stepped-up immigration enforcement under the new White House. Authorities have gone out of their way to tell jittery immigrants that they will not be arrested for seeking help, and outreach workers like Cisneros have been delivering that message in person at shelters like the George R. Brown Convention Center and on social media and Spanish-language media outlets.

The Harvey victims Cisneros met at the shelter shared the same concerns as almost everyone else: When can they return home? When can they start earning money again? How will they replace their belongings? The ones in the country illegally had deeper fears of deportation amid the chaos of having their homes wiped out.

“We basically lost everything,” Sanchez said, drinking from a Styrofoam cup half-filled with black coffee. “Everything.”

By Associated Press for NATIONAL POST
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