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Border agencies halt enforcement actions in Sandy evacuations

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) were told to concentrate on saving lives and property and not to pursue immigration enforcement activities during evacuations ordered ahead of Hurricane Sandy.

The massive east coast storm affected millions from Washington, DC, to Boston. New York City, as well as dozens of coastal communities up and down the east coast, implemented mandatory evacuation zones as the storm neared landfall on Oct. 29, moving hundreds of thousands of people out of potentially dangerous areas.

In a joint Oct. 26 memo to ICE and CBP personnel, ICE Acting Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale and CBP's Chief Operating Officer Thomas Winkowski said their agencies’ “highest priorities are to promote life-saving and life-sustaining activities, the safe evacuation of people who are leaving the impacted area, the maintenance of public order, the prevention of the loss of property to the extent possible, and the speedy recovery of the impacted region.”

There would be no immigration enforcement initiatives associated with evacuations or sheltering related to Hurricane Sandy, they said, including using checkpoints for immigration purposes in impacted areas during an evacuation. They added that if a state or local law enforcement agency determines an individual in their custody should be transferred or released due to Sandy, the state or local law enforcement agency shouldn’t decline to do so solely on the basis of an immigration detainer issued by ICE or CBP.

If a state or law enforcement agency does decide to release an individual subject to an ICE or CBP detainer based on Sandy, they advised, the agency should, contact the local ICE or CBP office prior to the release to ensure it doesn’t pose a danger to the community.

The CBP and ICE leader said, however, that laws wouldn’t be suspended and told personnel to “be vigilant against any effort by criminals to exploit disruptions caused by Sandy.”

Winkowski and Ragsdale said ICE and CBP would provide for the safety and security of those in agency custody and to protect them from bodily harm during the storm. They said Should the need arise because of Sandy, ICE would transfer detainees from affected detention facilities and notify the detainee’s attorney of record .