Senate Democrats sent the following letter today to Secretary Michael Chertoff urging the Department of Homeland Security to issue a formal statement reassuring immigrant victims of Hurricane Katrina that they can seek help from relief agencies without fear of deportation or being turned over to immigration authorities:
September 14, 2005
The Honorable Michael Chertoff
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Chertoff:
We write to strongly urge that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issue a formal statement reassuring immigrants victimized by Hurricane Katrina that they may seek help from relief agencies without fear that they will be turned over to immigration authorities or that the federal government will seek to deport them. As you know, after the September 11 attacks, then-INS Commissioner James Ziglar issued a statement encouraging undocumented immigrants to contact local authorities for help, and stated they could do so without fear that the agency would use their information for immigration purposes. In light of the magnitude of the tragedy caused by Hurricane Katrina, the ongoing need for relief, and the continuous risk to public health and safety involved, we urge you to issue such an assurance to the hurricane’s immigrant victims as soon as possible.
Tens of thousands of immigrants, including large populations of Mexicans, Hondurans, and Vietnamese, live in the areas hit hardest along the Gulf Coast. Officials in Mexico estimate that 145,000 Mexicans alone may have been displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Many of these immigrants are undocumented, and few have sought help from relief agencies or gone to shelters for fear that they will be turned over to federal authorities for deportation. We understand that some legal immigrants who lost all of their documents in the hurricane are also afraid to seek help.
DHS officials have publicly stated that rescuers have not been asking about immigration status, and President Vicente Fox of Mexico has said the United States agreed with his request not to prosecute undocumented Mexican migrants affected by Katrina who turn to U.S. officials for help. However, we believe a clear statement by DHS confirming that information on undocumented immigrants will not be shared with immigration authorities is necessary in order to ensure the public health and safety. Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your response.
Harry M. Reid – Democratic Leader
Richard Durbin – Assistant Democratic Leader
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Frank R. Lautenberg
John F. Kerry
Christopher J. Dodd
Patrick J. Leahy
Jon S. Corzine