Immigration and FEMA – What You Need to Know After Hurricane Harvey
Our office is deeply invested in the Houston community and our hearts go out to all the people affected by Hurricane Harvey in our city. As many neighborhoods are still recovering and individuals are trying to figure out their options for recovery, we thought it would be useful to provide some information for assistance and relief and alleviate concerns people might have regarding immigration enforcement.
Are ICE Agents Checking Immigration Status at Shelters?
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has made it clear that any undocumented individuals in Houston need not worry about going to a shelter or asking authorities for assistance after Hurricane Harvey. “I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what your status is,” Turner said Monday. “I do not want you to run the risk of losing your life or [that of] a family member because you’re concerned about SB4 or anything else.”
Mayor Turner wants undocumented persons to understand that the city’s focus is on saving lives and recovering and he pledges to personally represent anyone that is deported because he or she tried to get help.
As Harvey approached the Texas coast, U.S Customs and Border Protection announced that checkpoints along the coast would remain open, and fears surfaced that people might avoid evacuation due to fear of being detained.
The federal government has mostly supported Mayor Turner’s stance on nonenforcement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stating that it intends to not check any immigration statuses at shelters and foodbanks. ICE and CBP issued a joint statement noting that “routine non-criminal immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at evacuation sites, or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks.”
However, if ICE is informed by local law enforcement that there is a serious criminal alien that presents a public safety threat, ICE will make a case by case determination about whether to pursue that alien.
ICE also noted that there were reports of people impersonating ICE officers telling individuals to leave their homes, presumably to rob the homes once empty. If you are approached by an individual posing as an ICE officer, know your rights and seek legal advice from a reputable immigration attorney.
Am I Eligible for FEMA Assistance?
You must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or a qualified alien (which we will elaborate on below) to qualify for a grant from FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program. Importantly though, individuals who do not have documentation but have minor children who are citizens and have social security numbers can apply on behalf of the child. The only requirement is that the child lives with the parent that is applying on the child’s behalf.
Rather than a lengthy description of who could be eligible, we thought it would be easiest to create a list of the immigration statuses that are eligible for federal relief:
- U.S. citizens;
- Legal permanent residents (green card holders);
- Applicants who have been granted asylum;
- Individuals who have been admitted as refugees;
- Individuals who have been granted humanitarian parole for a period of 1 year;
- Individuals whose deportation has been withheld due to status as a political refugee;
- Individuals who were Cuban or Haitian entrants under the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980; and
- Individuals who have been victims of domestic violence and currently have a pending petition for relief.
Resident aliens should know that in no way would requesting disaster assistance affect one’s immigration status. The list above means that persons who have temporary tourist, student, and work visas do not qualify to receive aid. For individuals who do not have any kind of legal status in the country, state and local charities and volunteer organizations are still available for assistance with most programs refraining from any questions regarding a person’s status.
Is SB4 in Effect after Harvey?
On August 30th, a Federal Judge in San Antonio temporarily blocked SB4 from taking effect in Texas. Judge Orlando Garcia held that the law infringed on local and state government officials’ right to free speech because it prevented them from supporting a law, ordinance or policy that limits local enforcement of immigration laws.
Judge Garcia also found that because SB4 established criminal penalties against law enforcement and government officials for this behavior, it held them to a standard that could not be easily determined or defined, so the law was unconstitutionally vague. Judge Garcia also enjoined the provision of SB4 requiring local law enforcement officers to inquire about the immigration status of individuals when arrested or stopped.
The state of Texas immediately stated that it will appeal the decision to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is one of the nation’s most conservative circuit courts. For this reason, the injunction against these provisions of SB4 is temporary. Individuals who are concerned about their immigration status should take time now to determine their options.
Ready to figure out your immigration options? Click here to schedule a consultation with Houston Immigration Law Firm, The Law Office of Kathryn N. Karam, P.C.: