ICE Stands Down in Houston Area

Image: Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agents Work At Border Ahead Of Possible DHS Shutdown
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agentDavid Maung / Bloomberg via Getty Images

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By Julia Ainsley and Pete Williams

WASHINGTON — Immigration agents have not arrested any non-criminal immigrants in the Houston area in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, an agency spokesman told NBC News.

The suspension of arrests is a step beyond the promise made by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ahead of the storm. On Friday, the agency said "routine non-criminal immigration enforcement operations will not be conducted at evacuation sites, or assistance centers such as shelters or food banks."

Asked if there had been any arrests of non-criminal migrants recovering from the storm anywhere in the Houston area, spokesman Gregory Palmore said: "None by ICE."

"Our priority in the hurricane-stricken areas is saving lives," ICE said in a statement. "While we’re not conducting immigration enforcement in affected areas, we will not allow criminal enterprises to take advantage of the situation, and ICE personnel will remain vigilant toward such activities."

Oscar Hernandez, a Houston-based organizer with United We Dream, an immigrant advocate group, said his organization had heard of no immigrant arrests in the Houston area since the storm began wreaking havoc on the nation’s fourth largest city. Houston is home to 575,000 undocumented immigrants, according to the Pew Research Center.

Still, Hernandez and other advocates worry that the fear of deportation may be scaring undocumented immigrants away from getting the help they need.

"A lot of the centers ask for people’s identification. That alone sometimes can be an alarm to someone who is undocumented," said Hernandez.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday that people in need were not being asked to produce their papers.

"No one is being asked about their status," the governor said.

ICE considers non-criminal immigrants to be those who have entered the country illegally but have been convicted of no other crime, including re-entry.