McALLEN, Texas (AP) - Hurricane Ike steamed into the Gulf of Mexico yesterday. Texas emergency officials say they're ready to order a million people to evacuate the impoverished Rio Grande Valley.
They're also trying to persuade tens of thousands of illegal immigrants that they have less to fear from the Border Patrol than from the storm.
With forecasts showing Ike blowing ashore this weekend, authorities lined up nearly 1,000 buses in case they are needed to move out the many poor and elderly people who have no cars.
Federal authorities gave assurances they would not check people's immigration status at evacuation loading zones or inland checkpoints. But residents are skeptical, and there are worries that many illegal immigrants would refuse to board buses and go to shelters for fear of getting arrested and deported.
One reason for the skepticism came in May. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the Border Patrol would do nothing to impede an evacuation in the event of a hurricane. But when Hurricane Dolly struck the Rio Grande Valley in late July, no mandatory evacuation was ordered. The Border Patrol kept its checkpoints open and agents caught a vanload of illegal immigrants.
Mexican officials said more than a dozen dams in the northern state of Chihuahua were at capacity or spilling over, heightening fears of flooding on the American side of the border.