bloggin' all things brownsville

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Border Patrol's Immigration Checks During Evacuations Continue to Cause Outrage

Below is an e-mail sent Thursday by the attorney for the City of McAllen to RGV Emergency Management officials over a recent hurricane evacuation mock exercise and Border Patrol's participation. Will Cameron County follow suit? I sure hope so. Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos is seeking a "compromise." The County sought a compromise with the border wall issue, to no avail. Now this? I'm a strong believer in compromises, but there comes a time to burn that white flag of complacency and roll up those sleeves.

Should we see a Category 4 or 5 hurricane come our way, there will be thousands of people evacuating. Not everyone adequately prepares, and necessary documentation will be left behind. There will be no doubt a bottleneck at our checkpoints and even more so now.

Brownsville Herald Editor Rachel Benavidez commented within a May 15 article about this topic:

"The issue here is that these screenings could act as a deterrent for people seeking safe shelter from an impending storm. While national security is as important as personal security -- perhaps even synonymous in our times -- the detrimental effects of these arguably necessary checks could be the cost of human lives. If the need to weed out undocumented immigrants is the rock, hurricane season may well prove to be the hard place."




In discussions with many of you over the past day or so, I think we are all equally concerned (maybe “outraged” is a better word?) by the Border Patrol’s actions and position on this matter. (I may be perhaps more so than some because I saw this happening first hand to some of the kind volunteers who participated in the exercise.) I am of the opinion that the B.P. and we as the organizers of the exercise, first and foremost, owe a formal apology to those folks who were subjected to this treatment during the exercise.

Second, I have mentioned to a couple of you that I am drafting a letter for my Mayor’s signature to the Border Patrol and Immigration (and perhaps D.H.S.) to express his concern over this situation, both as to the exercise and, more importantly, this policy as it would effect future actual events. That letter will be appropriately diplomatic, but never the less strong in its objection to this process and clear as to our opinion as to the “chilling” effect that this will have on our efforts to get people out of harm’s way. (It may also mention our doubts as to the BP’s ability to “evacuate” and/or shelter people they take into custody.)

Some of the EM’s have indicated that their elected officials would be interested in signing such a letter. If your elected officials would be interested in signing on to such a letter, (you will of course see a draft before committing), then please let me know by return email. (Unfortunately, due to a pending trip, I will not be able to have the actual draft to you until probably next Monday.)

In addition to the foregoing, let me add the following: the “position” taken by B.P. spokespersons in these reports (and on Channel 5 last night) is completely at odds with both what we personally told at the AAR about this situation and my understanding of our collective “plan.” (I was particularly upset with the spokesperson’s comment that he did not want to “be responsible for allowing a terrorist on the bus” with the other evacuees. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if there is a terrorist at the evacuation hub, aren’t they already responsible for letting them into the country in the first place?)

I believe I have fairly strongly expressed (on behalf of the City of McAllen and the MACC) our concern about this and request that it be reconsidered. Also, speaking strictly as the City Attorney for the City of McAllen, I will be recommending a policy that would prohibit these agencies from engaging in this behavior on City property without our express consent, which they will not have during an evacuation. (You may be interested to learn that they (B.P.) engaged in similar behavior at the UTPA graduation ceremony at the Convention Center last Saturday night. Our City staff had to have them removed from the facilities. Higher ups claimed the agents that did so were acting without their knowledge or authority.)

We all know how information “spreads” in the Valley, especially as regards immigration related matters and I fear they have already done significant damage to our efforts to encourage people to evacuate. I am having trouble imagining anything that will undermine our efforts more than this ill-conceived policy and “P.R.” stunt by the Border Patrol.

(I want to note that, in speaking with the actual agents at the event, they are not any more comfortable with this than we are. Therefore, I think this represents “official” B.P. policy and I don’t mean to speak ill, personally, of any of the individual agents.)

Kevin Pagan
City Attorney
City of McAllen, Texas


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to disagree. As a dual citizen of Mexico and the U.S., I have personally dealt with the Mexican Govermment. They are VERY strict when it comes to paperwork in regard to government services. That is their right as a sovereign nation. I can see the B.P.'s point. The checkpoints will be bottlenecks as it is. Anything they can do to reduce that wait, in that very vulnerable area that is the King Ranch, will be a greatly appreciated by those waiting (very much in harms way). The "refugee" areas will have limited resources. I think that as citizens or legal residents, that our U.S. needy should come first.
Besides, anyone who has watched the Weather Channel knows that the south side of the hurricane is the weaker side. So, if a hurricane were to directly hit the valley, cities like corpus would also be very much in harms way, where as places like Soto la Marina and Tampico would be less vulnerable to the most deadly effect of the hurricane...the storm surge. Those who are afraid to board a bus can go south. The roads aren't as good, but you're heading away from the brunt of the storm. Personally, I would head toward Monterrey. By sending too many north, you are actually putting them in harms way. Remember Hurricane Gilbert in the 80's. It came very close to Brownsville, but it did much more damage in the San Antonio Medical Center area than it did anywhere in the Valley.
As a humanitarian seeking compromise, I would say to dispatch a series of buses toward Laredo. It is safely away from the coast, and there are no checkpoints between here and there. Make it known that papers won't be checked on those buses and let the undocumented evacuate in that direction with out questions.
My only real fear is for those citizens like my mother-in-law, who were born here to a mid-wife, and don't have the greatest paperwork. For the evacuation, they need to go back to the old system of a verbal declaration of citizenship and leave it up to a couple of levels of agents to make spot determinations.

Sunday, May 18, 2008  

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