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By Julia Ainsley

WASHINGTON — As Hurricane Michael roars toward the Gulf Coast, immigration agents are halting the arrests and deportations of undocumented immigrants in Florida and Alabama, officials said Tuesday.

"Our highest priority remains the preservation of life and safety," said Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Secretary. "In consideration of these circumstances, there will be no immigration enforcement initiatives associated with evacuations or sheltering related to Michael, except in the event of a serious public safety threat."

The agency has suspended immigration operations in the paths of storms in the past so that undocumented immigrants are not discouraged from seeking shelter out of fear they will be arrested and deported.

DHS also halted immigration enforcement in Texas last year during Hurricane Harvey and in the Carolinas last month amid Hurricane Florence. DHS also oversees FEMA, the emergency management agency responsible for providing shelter and recovery after storms.

Hurricane Michael was packing 120 mph winds and had reached Category 3 strength as it bore down on the Florida Panhandle Tuesday afternoon. Forecasters expect it to make landfall on Wednesday.