Katrina Victims Punished for Requesting Assistance

Latino immigrants detained after being told by Federal Government to come forward for help in hurricane’s aftermath

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, President Bush expressed his commitment to assist all Katrina victims and the federal government publicly told all immigrants, no matter what their status, that they could receive emergency relief services from the federal government without fear of deportation or legal action. Since then, there have been troubling reports of immigrants who have been detained and ordered to report for deportation proceedings despite the administration’s assurances to the contrary. Although we are hopeful that these reports are unsubstantiated, the effects of an ambiguous detention policy on the displaced immigration community in the Gulf states are potentially disastrous, with families forgoing medication and basic survival needs for fear of being deported.

“Immigrant communities are receiving mixed messages from the administration,” said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way. “By not assuring these individuals that they will receive fair, life-saving treatment without legal repercussions, many of them may be too afraid to ask for assistance and face further suffering.”

“Detaining individuals who request assistance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina for violations of immigration laws is not only a mixed message, it is a departure from previous policies,” continued Neas. During past relief actions such as the hurricanes in Florida last year and September 11th, the Bush administration and other administrations have consistently suspended such enforcement activities.

“As Hurricane Rita approaches the Gulf coast, the need for quick and deliberate action becomes even more critical,” concluded Neas. “It is imperative that President Bush, the Department of Homeland Security and other federal relief programs make an immediate statement to the public that no matter what their immigration status, individuals needing assistance can uniformly come forward and receive the help they need without fear of detention or deportation.”

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