The mayor of Houston has vowed to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation and is urging them to seek emergency assistance if they need it during storm-relief efforts.
“I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what your status is,” Mayor Sylvester Turner told reporters Monday. “I do not want you to risk losing your life or [that of] a family member because you’re concerned about SB4 or anything else.”
The timing of Turner’s overture to undocumented residents, many of whom may have been displaced by the historic rainfall and flooding brought by Harvey, is important. The state’s controversial “Show me your papers” law, or SB4, is slated to go into effect Friday, giving cops the authority to question anyone they detain about their immigration status.
The law also outlaws so-called sanctuary cities where local authorities do not cooperate fully with federal immigration enforcement efforts.
“If you are in a stressful situation, I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what your religion is, I don’t care what your language is. You come and take advantage of every service we have,” Sylvester added.
FEMA said Monday that an estimated 30,000 people may be in need of shelter due to the unrelenting rains pummeling the Houston area. As of Tuesday morning, at least 10 people had died.
The Houston area has the third-biggest undocumented population in the U.S., according to Pew Research analysis from 2014. Pew estimated based on Census data that there are 575,000 undocumented immigrants living in the Houston area, representing about 8.7 percent of the population.
Turner, a Democrat, promised to personally provide legal representation to anyone who finds themselves in the hands of immigration authorities. He also doubled down on his opposition to SB4, urging state lawmakers to put the law “on the shelf” while rescue and hurricane relief efforts are underway.
There’s still a chance the law won’t go into effect at all. A handful of cities, including Texas, and civil rights groups have filed suit against the state on constitutional grounds, saying that SB4 would have a chilling effect on the immigrant community and is overly broad.
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia is expected to decide before the end of the week whether to grant the plaintiffs an injunction.