Mayor LaToya Cantrell briefs the press on Thursday about incoming tropical storm Barry. Credit: Michael Isaac Stein / The Lens

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in New Orleans has suspended immigration enforcement in Southern Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, according to spokesman Bryan Cox. 

The move comes ahead of a weekend during which, according to the New York Times, there will be ICE raids across the country to “arrest thousands of members of undocumented families.” The publication anonymously cited two current and one former homeland security officials. The raids are reportedly scheduled for Sunday. 

“We don’t discuss future operations,” Cox told The Lens. “Solely due to the approaching storm, the local field office has announced that we are temporarily suspending all immigration enforcement in the local area.”

He explained that the suspension will be in “storm affected areas,” which could shift as the storm develops. 

“Obviously we’re still a ways out,” he said. “Given that it looks like the impact now is in Southern Louisiana and Mississippi, we have suspended in Southern Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

He told The Lens he could not, at this point, say how long the suspension will last. 

On Thursday, the executive director of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, Ursula Price, sent a letter to the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, along with Mayor LaToya Cantrell and Governor John Bel Edwards’ office, asking that they spread the word about the suspension.

It also asked that the suspension be expanded to the entire jurisdiction of the New Orleans field office — Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

The reason, the letter said, is that limiting the suspension to storm affected areas could discourage immigrant residents from evacuating to other parts of the region. 

“Emergency protection from hurricanes and natural disasters is a fundamental human right, and evacuation should never lead to deportation,” the letter said. “But in this environment, immigrant residents and their families will fear risking deportation from evacuation, shelters, and all emergency aid efforts unless DHS makes specific public reassurances that immigration enforcement is suspended.”

Cox said that the limited suspension area shouldn’t play into people’s decisions about safety. 

“I want to be explicitly clear, no person should hesitate to obtain the necessary supplies or heed an evacuation order for fear of ICE presence,” he said. “We do not do any type of random or indiscriminate enforcement.”

The New York Times reported that ICE will be making “collateral deportations” during Sunday’s action, meaning that undocumented people who are on site during a targeted arrest could be swept up in the raids. After an immigration raid in 2017, for example, ICE officials told Huffpost that 70 percent of the 650 people they arrested were not the targets of the enforcement operation. 

At a press conference on Thursday, a reporter from Jambalaya News Louisiana, a Spanish language publication, asked Mayor LaToya Cantrell whether she had “any message for the immigrant community in the city that might be afraid to evacuate or find safer places if they feel that their home isn’t secure enough for the storm.”

“Individuals have to make that call for themselves,” Cantrell responded. “Safety first. And a part of that safety, which is a priority for the city of New Orleans, is supporting the fact that ICE will not, will not, have a presence in the city of New Orleans.”

Michael Isaac Stein

Michael Isaac Stein covers New Orleans' cultural economy and local government for The Lens. Before joining the staff, he freelanced for The Lens as well as The Intercept, CityLab, The New Republic, and...