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Sheltering the 'shadow population' in a hurricane

Louisiana's immigrant population has been on the rise since the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which drew workers to the New Orleans and other parts of the state as rebuilding efforts began. And now, as the state has been pounded by Hurricane Isaac this week, some of those newcomers have been reluctant to come forward for assistance.

In the New York Times' editorial page editor's blog, Lawrence Downes writes about the since-downgraded but still devastating hurricane and some of its immigrant victims, "a shadow population of the undocumented who can't or won't seek emergency help."

At the urging of advocates, immigration officials have since announced that they won't pursue immigration enforcement actions in relation to evacuations or sheltering victims of Isaac, he writes. Might this kind of policy work as a regular  policy in future disasters? Downes writes:

This common-sense policy will be invaluable to immigrant organizations and rescue workers should evacuations, some of which have already begun, widen and become more difficult and chaotic. Especially when itâ??s inscribed on paper â?? something official that be held in the face of a gung-ho sheriff, police officer or Border Patrol agent who didnâ??t get the memo.

Advocates in New Orleans said they spent much time in the last few days trying to wring this policy and public statement out of ICE. They would be grateful for a more permanent statement that could be applied to future disasters wherever they happen â?? that enforcement will be temporarily halted, not just in the evacuation and sheltering phase of a disaster, but in the return and recovery period as well, to encourage evacuees to seek help. ICE says itâ??s considering such a move, while weighing the concern that criminals like smugglers might find a way to exploit such a policy when chaos hits.

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