Houston mayor promises to defend immigrants amid Harvey devastation

PHOTO: Mayor of Houston, Texas, Sylvester Turner speaks during the 22nd World Petroleum Congress in Istanbul, Turkey, July 13, 2017.PlayBerk Ozkan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
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The mayor of Houston promised to personally defend undocumented immigrants who be may hesitant to seek help in the aftermath of Harvey over fears of being deported.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said he would represent any immigrant who faces deportation after seeking help during the storm relief efforts. The mayor said the city is focusing on helping those who have been stranded and displaced by historic rain and flooding that has already claimed the lives of at least six people and forced tens of thousands from their homes.

“There is absolutely no reason why anyone should not call. And I and others will be the first ones to stand up with you,” Turner, an attorney, told reporters on Monday. “If someone comes and they require help and then for some reason [someone] tries to deport them, I will represent them myself.”

“If you are in a stressful situation, I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what you’re religion is, I don’t care what your language is, you come and take advantage of every service that we have,” Turner added.

The city of Houston also sought to reassure immigrants who may be seeking shelter.

“We will not ask for immigration status or papers from anyone at any shelter,” the city said in a tweet late Monday night. “This rumor is FALSE!”

Turner, a Democrat, addressed the city’s immigrant community in a press conference on Monday morning, urging residents to put Texas’ Senate Bill 4 -- which outlaws sanctuary cities -- “on the shelf“ as emergency workers focus on rescue and recovery missions in the flood-torn city.

Set to take effect on Friday, Senate Bill 4 was signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Republican, earlier this year, giving Texas sheriffs, constables and police officers the power to question a suspect’s immigration status if detained.

“I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what your status is. I do not want you to risk losing your life or [that of] a family member because you’re concerned about SB 4 or anything else,” Turner said. “Put SB4 on the shelf right now.”

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, an outspoken opponent of Senate Bill 4, said officers will be required to file a report anytime they ask someone about their immigration status once the law goes into effect, but it's unclear how other cities in the state would go about enforcing the law.

The law is currently in legal limbo and it could still be blocked by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, of San Antonio, later this week. Several Texas cities and civil-rights groups sued the state, arguing the law is unconstitutional and vague, that it would hamstring officers trying to work with immigrants who are victims of crime, and that it might inspire other states to pursue their own versions of the law, according to The Associated Press.

Judge Garcia is expected to issue a ruling on the law before before it is due to take effect later this week.