Late Tuesday, the City of Houston issued a statement regarding reports that were coming in of people impersonating Homeland Security agents. In addition to imposing a curfew between 12 AM and 5 AM on Wednesday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told the residents of his city that there were apparently fake agents in the area. The impostors were telling people to evacuate their homes in what he believes is an effort to rob them once they’re gone.
There are villains during every tragedy. From gas-gouging during Hurricane Katrina to Donald Trump using Harvey to sell $40 hats, someone will always look for a way to capitalize on the misery and confusion of others. But while the Trump example is merely tacky, and the price-gouging can net you a fine, impersonating a federal officer is — you guessed it — a federal offense. Not only that, but evacuation orders are not given lightly. They are issued as a last resort because often families must leave everything they know and love, spending more of the money they might need on a hotel or fuel to get out of town to a relative’s house. If they don’t know where to go, it could also endanger their lives.
Wednesday morning, ICE issued a statement of their own:
There are disturbing reports that people impersonating Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents are knocking on doors in the Houston area telling residents to evacuate — presumably so these imposters can rob the empty homes. Real HSI officials wear badges that are labeled “special agent,” which members of the public can ask to see and verify. ICE officers with Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) also wear badges labeled with ERO Officer. They also carry credentials with their name and organization.”
The agency went on to say that everyone should ask to see the credentials and badges of anyone who shows up at their homes presenting themselves as an agent. And in a bit of clarity and relief for terrified immigrants afraid to ask for help during Hurricane Harvey, ICE declared:
[D]uring Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is not conducting immigration enforcement operations in the affected area.”
If you or a loved one are in the Houston area and you have been contacted by someone who didn’t have proper identification, or who you suspect may not have been who they said they were, don’t take action yourself. Instead, you can call ICE directly at no charge at 866-347-2423. And if you know of immigrants who have not yet sought help and are in a bad way, encourage them to reach out during this time while enforcement is not being carried out.
Featured image via Scott Olson/Getty Images