In the aftermath of the massacre of 19 young children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, federal immigration officials have declared the community to be a “protected area” and said individuals affected by the tragedy will not be targeted for arrest or deportation—at least for now.
The Department of Homeland Security, the agency responsible for immigration enforcement and border protection, issued a statement Wednesday saying that immigration agents would temporarily pause “enforcement activities” in Uvalde. The statement specifically promised that Homeland Security agents would not attempt to deceive anyone to make arrests.
“DHS officials do not and will not pose as individuals providing emergency-related information as part of any enforcement activities,” the statement said.
DHS is the parent agency for Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which includes the Border Patrol, as well as Immigration and Customs and Enforcement, better known as ICE.
“To the fullest extent possible, ICE and CBP will not conduct immigration enforcement activities [in Uvalde] so that individuals, regardless of immigration status, can seek assistance, reunify with family and loved ones, and otherwise address the tragedy that occurred,” the statement said.
The Uvalde school targeted by the gunman, Robb Elementary, includes second through fourth grades, and state data shows about 90 percent of its 535 students are Hispanic, including about 81 percent who are classified as economically disadvantaged. Uvalde is located about 80 miles west of San Antonio and an hour’s drive from the U.S.-Mexico border.
The 18-year-old responsible for the attack has been identified by authorities as Salvador Ramos, an Uvalde resident who shot his grandmother before driving to the elementary school and opening fire on police, teachers, and young children. Ramos was killed by police, including Border Patrol agents who were in the area when the shooting began.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday that Ramos was a U.S. citizen, and he was reportedly born in North Dakota. Those facts haven’t stopped false rumors circulating on social media suggesting Ramos “crossed the border illegally” before targeting the school.
Marsha Espinosa, a spokesperson for DHS, said Border Patrol agents in Uvalde “responded to a law enforcement request for assistance” regarding an active shooter at the elementary school. Upon entering the building, Espinosa said, the agents and other officers on the scene “faced gunfire from the subject, who was barricaded inside.”
“Risking their own lives, these Border Patrol agents and other officers put themselves between the shooter and children on the scene to draw the shooter’s attention away from potential victims and save lives,” Espinosa said.
At least one Border Patrol agent was wounded by the shooter during the exchange of gunfire, according to Espinosa, and multiple Border Patrol agents, including some off-duty, arrived on the scene to provide medical support and get students to safety.
Uvalde falls within a 100-mile zone that gives Border Patrol agents broad latitude to operate, including by setting up immigration checkpoints. The ACLU says Border Patrol agents “routinely ignore or misunderstand the limits of their legal authority” in border zones, “resulting in violations of the constitutional rights of innocent people.”
Gov. Abbott said at a press conference Wednesday that 17 people were injured in addition to the 21 dead from the attack.
"As horrible as what happened, it could have been worse,” Abbott said. “The reason it was not worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do; they showed amazing courage."
Despite the heroics, the presence of Border Patrol agents in Uvalde triggered concerns that parents or other family members might be detained because of their immigration status.
“ICE is on the scene of a shooting that took place in a heavily Hispanic school, so undocumented parents have to consider arrest deportation before they go check to see if their kids are alive,” one Twitter user wrote. “What a fucking country.”