Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has promised the city’s nearly 600,000 illegal immigrants that they won’t be turned over to immigration authorities if they go to a shelter or ask for help during Harvey.
Turner, a lawyer, even went a step further, saying he would personally represent any illegal immigrant who faces deportation for seeking shelter during the storm.
“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 (Senate Bill) 4 or anything else."
Texas Senate Bill 4 outlaws sanctuary cities in the state and allows state and local law enforcement officers to check immigration status. It takes effect Sept. 1.
Turner said with everyone trying to deal with Harvey, now was the time to put “the [immigration] law on the shelf.”
I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what your status is. I do not want you to run the risk of losing your life or [that of] a family member because you’re concerned about (Senate Bill) 4 or anything else.
Harvey is the strongest hurricane to hit the nation in 13 years, and the worst to strike Texas since Carla in 1961.
“There’s absolutely no reason why anyone should not call [for help],” Turner said. “And I and others will be the first ones to stand up with you."
He added, “If someone comes and they require help and then for some reason [someone] tries to deport them, I will represent them myself.”
Houston and several other Texas cities and counties have filed a lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 4’s constitutionality.
Immigrant rights groups hailed Turner’s outreach efforts.
It’s not the time for anyone to ask anyone about immigration status. It’s a time to help people.
“It’s very important for him to deliver that message,” said Mary Moreno, communications director for the Houston-based Texas Organizing Project. “People were already afraid not only because of what [President] Trump is doing [about illegal immigration], but also because of SB-4, which ties the hands of police chiefs who prohibited their officers from asking immigration status.”
“SB-4 allows a police officer to take it upon himself to be an immigration agent, and that’s created a lot of fear, even though police were already assuring people that they should come forward for help” during the hurricane, she said.
Even proponents of Senate Bill 4 commended Turner’s efforts, saying that saving lives supercedes everything else.
“We don’t have any problem with his message when dealing with disaster that’s life and death, and where people are in a dire situation,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR. “It’s not the time for anyone to ask anyone about immigration status. It’s a time to help people.”