Floridians are perhaps better equipped to deal with hurricanes than anyone in the United States. Still, the anxiety leading up to Hurricane Irma's landfall feels unprecedented for a number of reasons. Harvey just decimated Texas, and images of people being rescued from their roofs are still fresh in people's heads. The anniversaries of superstorms like Katrina and Andrew just passed, and with them news stories reminding people of how deadly nature can be at its worst. What's more, fake news stories calling Irma the first-ever Category 6 hurricane—along with very real calculations from MIT experts concluding it contains more power than all of the bombs dropped during WWII—are making the social media rounds, whipping everyone into a panic.
Many people are fleeing, or at least preparing to flee. And those who can't afford to travel inland are looking for shelters to bunker down in. But the decision to head to a shelter can be difficult for some. During Harvey, some undocumented immigrants stayed home for fear of being deported, even though Houston officials reassured them that would happen to no one.
Miami-Dade County is following that lead. A spokesperson for Miami-Dade County's Emergency Operations Center told me officials won't be checking IDs at any shelters during Irma. That's no doubt good news for Miami's population of about 55,000 undocumented immigrants.
The Polk County Sheriff's Office in Central Florida went the other direction, however, warning certain contingents of the population that they're not worthy of protection.
"If you go to a shelter for #Irma, be advised: sworn LEOs will be at every shelter, checking IDs. Sex offenders/predators will not be allowed," the office's Twitter account sent out Wednesday. People with warrants were also told that they'd be arrested if they showed up at a shelter.
The warnings issued by the Polk County Sheriff's office have been heavily criticized online with people calling them "inhumane" and likening the officers there to infamous Trump ally Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
"So basically this guy is encouraging anyone with a warrant, which are issued for things such as outstanding parking tickets, to risk death?" one commenter responded. "You are a public servant. You are in violation of your sacred duty to the citizens you serve. Shame on you and your ilk."
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