NEW ORLEANS - During today's regular meeting, the Council adopted Resolution R-20-284 by Councilmembers-At-Large Jason Williams and Helena Moreno requesting that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field offices protect public safety and prioritize recovery and rebuilding over immigration enforcement in the aftermath of Hurricane Laura.
When Laura made landfall in Louisiana as a category 4 hurricane, it became one of the most powerful in U.S. history. The storm devastated homes and businesses along the Louisiana and Texas coasts, leaving around one million customers without power or water. The City of New Orleans recognizes that protection from natural disasters and their harsh impacts is a fundamental responsibility of government, especially as it reflects on the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. As the Gulf Coast faces a grueling path to recovery, local officials must proceed with great care and compassion.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's stated priorities in such emergencies, include life-saving and life-sustaining activities, preventing loss of property to the extent possible, and supporting a quick recovery of the impacted region. Consistent with these priorities, it has previously exercised its discretion to halt immigration enforcement post-disasters. In the absence of a clear commitment to this end from federal immigration officials, immigrant residents and their families fear being detained and deported when seeking or assisting with evacuation, shelter, and emergency aid or recovery efforts. To make matters worse, recent reports indicate numerous Louisiana immigrant detainees are suffering sweltering heat due to lack of power, unable to bathe or access water, and forced to wade through sewage pooled on the floors.
"New Orleans has opened its doors to 10k evacuees and counting who have been displaced by Hurricane Laura and now face a grueling path to recovery as we all continue to grapple with COVID-19," said Councilmember Williams. "This is absolutely a humanitarian crisis, and we have to focus on aid over enforcement. We don't want our immigrant residents and families having to fear being detained and deported while they seek shelter and emergency medical aid. We do not need a law enforcement deterrent that will cause our people to risk their lives and the lives of their loved ones. These deterrents can also work against the Region's own recovery because oftentimes, members of our immigrant community who are first to step up and put it on the line to assist with recovery efforts. Our efforts should be on recovery and rebuilding for EVERYONE."
The New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice has also sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf to immediately address this issue.
"DHS is spending resources tearing families apart when all critical resources should be directed toward recovery--getting folks back in their homes and keeping families together," said Nikki Thanos, Legal and Policy Director at the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice.
"In the aftermath of Hurricane Laura, immigrants detained by ICE at the Jackson Parish and LaSalle Correctional Centers have reported overflowing sewage, power and water outages, sweltering heat, and breached COVID quarantine protocols," said Jaclyn Cole, Southern Poverty Law Center Outreach Paralegal. "Today's adoption of this resolution by the New Orleans City Council is a necessary step towards humane dignity and safety. DHS and ICE need to direct their focus at releasing immigrants from such deplorable conditions rather than arresting and detaining our neighbors and loved ones, trying simply to rebuild their lives upturned by the storm. The SPLC thanks Councilmembers Williams and Moreno for proposing R-20-284 and to all for adopting it."
"We appreciate the New Orleans City Council for passing this resolution and fighting for immigrants. At this time, ICE should focus on providing disaster relief and assisting first responders. With a combination of a global pandemic and severe natural disaster, people need to feel safe when reaching out for assistance and trying to help," said Homero López,
Executive Director and Managing Attorney at Immigration Services & Legacy Advocacy.
"Over the past few days, we've been working to take care of evacuees that the state sent to the City of New Orleans. We've interacted with these families, and many are showing up with very few items, in need of desperate things like diapers, baby formula, and basic toiletries. They are so incredibly grateful for receiving those essentials," said Councilmember Moreno. "I would hate that someone who needed this type of assistance would be too scared to come to us for help because they fear that due to their immigration status, something negative could happen to them. We don't want our people foregoing fundamental needs because they fear detention or even worse. This is a really strong statement of how we feel in N.O. And to those evacuees who have taken shelter in our city, we plan to take care of you the best that we can. You are welcome in the City of New Orleans."
As stated in the resolution, the assurance of temporary immigration enforcement suspension during this humanitarian crisis is not only the morally right thing to do but also critical to the ongoing safety of all Gulf Coast residents.
Councilmember Williams concluded saying, "At a time when several of our ICE detention centers are struggling to maintain proper control of COVID cases and some failing to meet basic sanitary conditions, it is irresponsible to increase that strain by detaining more residents. I am asking for discretionary restraint from enforcement activities at this time in the same way that it has previously been exercised in times of crisis. It's the right thing to do."
Keith D. Lampkin
Office of Jason R. Williams, Council-At-Large