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Senator Clinton Urges DHS to Issue a Formal Statement in the Wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Reassuring Immigrants to Seek Help Without Fear

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Senator Clinton Urges DHS to Issue a Formal Statement in the Wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Reassuring Immigrants to Seek Help Without Fear

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has joined with fellow Senate Democrats in urging the Department of Homeland Security to issue a formal statement reassuring immigrant victims of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina that they can seek help from relief agencies without fear of deportation or being turned over to immigration authorities. In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, the Senators asked that in light of the magnitude of the tragedy caused by the hurricanes, the ongoing need for relief, and the continuous risk to public health and safety involved, such an assurance should be issued to the hurricane's immigrant victims as soon as possible.

The Senators' correspondence follows an earlier letter to Secretary Chertoff, calling for a formal statement reassuring immigrants impacted by Hurricane Katrina that they might seek help from relief agencies without fear that the federal government will seek to deport them.

[Copies of the Senators' letters are attached]

September 22, 2005

The Honorable Michael Chertoff
Secretary
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528

Dear Secretary Chertoff:

As you know, we sent you a letter, dated September 14, strongly urging 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 the federal government will seek to deport them.

To date, we have not received a response to our letter. In fact, we were surprised and troubled to learn that DHS has placed some individuals in deportation proceedings after these individuals sought assistance, despite the fact that the government had previously encouraged all storm victims to come forward to seek help.

After Hurricane Rita reached the Gulf Coast, we write with new urgency to request again that DHS issue assurances that all individuals affected by this dangerous storm may seek relief without fear that their names will be turned over to federal authorities for immigration enforcement purposes. Particularly given the widely publicized reports that DHS will deport some immigrant victims of Katrina who sought assistance, we believe such a public assurance is crucial. Some in the Gulf Coast's immigrant communities will no doubt be too afraid to seek assistance as they evacuate or look for shelter if they believe they might be deported as a result. For many, this could be a matter of life and death.

We hope that you will act expeditiously to assure clearly and publicly all those in the path of the storm that they may seek shelter and other assistance without fear. We also urge you to exercise your discretion to terminate removal proceedings against those individuals who were placed in proceedings after they sought assistance.

Sincerely,

Harry M. Reid,
Democratic Leader

Richard Durbin
Assistant Democratic Leader

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Maria Cantwell
Barack Obama
Russ Feingold
Daniel Akaka
Frank R. Lautenberg
Joseph Lieberman
Carl Levin
John F. Kerry
Christopher J. Dodd
Patrick J. Leahy
Jon S. Corzine

September 14, 2005 The Honorable Michael Chertoff Secretary 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.

Sincerely,

Harry M. Reid - Democratic Leader Richard Durbin - Assistant Democratic Leader Hillary Rodham Clinton Maria Cantwell Barack Obama Russ Feingold Daniel Akaka Frank R. Lautenberg Joseph Lieberman Carl Levin John F. Kerry Christopher J. Dodd Patrick J. Leahy Jon S. Corzine

http://clinton.senate.gov/news/statements/details.cfm?id=246545&&

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