Feds Stop Short in Assurances for Illegal Immigrants

9-9-05 - The Department of Homeland Security has stopped short of reassuring illegal immigrants victimized by Hurricane Katrina that they can seek help from relief agencies without fear of arrest _ something the federal government did after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The agency is encouraging everyone to come forward and is focused on saving lives, agency spokeswoman Joanna Gonzalez said.

"We want to provide food, water, shelter and medical supplies to everyone. No one should be afraid to accept our offers to provide safety," she said. Rescuers have not been asking people whether they are in the country legally when they are rescuing them, Gonzalez said.

But she would not say whether information on undocumented immigrants would be shared with law enforcement agencies. Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs and Enforcement officials are assisting in the hurricane response and helping to find survivors.

Ten days after the Sept. 11 attacks, then-INS Commissioner James Ziglar issued a statement encouraging undocumented immigrants who thought they had lost friends or family in the World Trade Center to contact local authorities. He said they could do so without fear that INS would try to get their information for immigration purposes.