U.S. Homeland Security Refused Requests for Checks of Evacuees

Bloomberg, Nov. 9

The U.S. Homeland Security Department refused requests by Alabama officials to conduct background checks on Hurricane Katrina evacuees to keep criminals out of temporary housing facilities, according to e-mails released by congressional investigators.

In the e-mails, provided by a special House committee investigating the federal response the storm, Michael Waters, the department’s security adviser for the Birmingham district, said such background checks might be viewed as racist. Many storm victims who lived in shelters were low-income blacks.

The checks were a “potentially explosive issue given the existing race/class issues,” Waters wrote in a Sept. 7 e-mail to a state official. “I recommend we not attempt to do this at all.”

The e-mails will be the subject of questions during the panel’s hearing today about how state and federal officials interacted in Alabama in the storm’s aftermath, said Rob White, a spokesman for committee Chairman Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican.

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In his e-mail, Waters said that doing background checks on every evacuee “gets you into the realm of profiling” and that then-FEMA Director Michael Brown had said the agency wouldn’t do it.

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