Sep 28, 2022 - Politics & Policy

DHS says it won't conduct immigration enforcement at Hurricane Ian relief sites

Photo of a sign that says "Hurricane evacuation route" standing against the wind blowing trees away

Palm trees in St. Pete Beach are hit with strong winds from Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Photo: Gerardo Mora via Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday that immigration enforcement activities will not be conducted at sites that provide emergency response and relief in light of Hurricane Ian's landfall as a high-end Category 4 storm.

The big picture: A total of nearly 1.5 million undocumented immigrants live in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina — with Florida home to the largest population, at roughly 772,000, according to the Migrant Policy Institute.

  • As Ian inundates densely populated coastal communities with maximum sustained winds of 150 mph, many undocumented immigrants are now faced with the thought of arrest or safety.

Details: These "protected areas" include evacuation routes; sites used for sheltering; distribution of emergency supplies, food or water; and registration sites for disaster-related assistance or the reunification of families and loved ones.

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection will help with search and rescue, air traffic deconfliction and public safety missions at the request of FEMA or local and state authorities, but "DHS officials do not and will not pose as individuals providing emergency-related information as part of any enforcement activities," the department said in its notice.
  • The move is routine practice, CBS news reports.

What they're saying: "DHS is committed to ensuring that every individual who seeks shelter, aid, or other assistance as a result of Hurricane Ian is able to do so regardless of their immigration status."

Worth noting: Immigrants are among the most vulnerable in a catastrophic climate event like Ian.

  • In Florida, U.S. Coast Guard crews rescued three migrants who attempted to swim to shore after their vessel sank, officials said Wednesday.
  • They were taken to a local hospital to treat symptoms of exhaustion and dehydration.
  • Air crews are still searching for roughly 20 other migrants.

State of play: Ian made landfall near Cayo Costa, Florida, just a few miles per hour shy of Category 5 intensity on Wednesday afternoon.

  • The National Weather Service has forecast potentially "catastrophic" flooding with widespread rainfall amounts of up to 18 inches across much of the state.

Go deeper: Hurricane Ian power outages begin throughout Florida

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