Alien concept: The propriety of conducting immigration paperwork checks during evacuations
When natural disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires approach, one of the emergency response personnel’s primary concerns is ensuring that everyone living within the affected area evacuates efficiently and safely. Emergency personnel are under enormous pressure to move the entire affected population quickly. Recent evacuations have earned media attention because the US Border Patrol conducted immigration status screenings for residents attempting to move to safer areas. These screenings deter portions of the immigrant population from evacuating, hamper evacuation efforts, squander emergency personnel resources, and ultimately endanger rescue workers who return to communities to search for survivors post disaster. Moreover, the concept of treating certain individuals differently in emergencies based on legal residency is foreign to our emergency response protocol as well as to our legal system. The federal government should end its policy of conducting immigration screenings during evacuations because it presents humanitarian as well as legal issues, and runs counter to the government’s responsibility to protect the public welfare, regardless of who comprises the public at large.
This article was published in the January/February 2009 issue of the Journal of Emergency Management.