DHS: No immigration enforcement operations in areas hit by Irma

DHS: No immigration enforcement operations in areas hit by Irma

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Wednesday that the agency will not carry out immigration enforcement operations in areas hit by Hurricane Irma in an effort to encourage undocumented immigrants to seek help without fear of reprisal.

"DHS will not conduct non-criminal immigration enforcement operations in the affected area," the agency said in a statement.

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"At the request of [the Federal Emergency Management Agency], local and state authorities, DHS law enforcement personnel will be in the affected area to conduct search and rescue, air traffic de-confliction and public safety missions," according to the statement. "When it comes to rescuing people in the wake of Hurricane Irma, immigration status is not and will not be a factor."

The move aims to create a safe haven for undocumented immigrants to seek help without fear of punishment as the extreme Category 5 storm approaches the nation's shores. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said saving lives would be the agencies' "highest priorities."

The agencies made similar statements regarding people affected by Hurricane Harvey, which wreaked havoc across southeastern part of the Lone Star State, leaving dozens dead and displacing scores more.

The DHS warned that it will continue to enforce the law should it notice any criminal activity.

"However, the laws will not be suspended, and we will be vigilant against any effort by criminals to exploit disruptions caused by the storm," the statement continued.