More than 600,000 undocumented immigrants in Houston affected by Harvey aftermath
by Cheryl Piccio, ABS-CBN News
HOUSTON, TX — In the greater Houston area, there are more than 600,000 immigrants without legal status. Many have lost everything after Hurricane Harvey.
But undocumented immigrants are unable to qualify for government disaster relief under FEMA, making them among the worst off in Houston’s long recovery.
Immigration advocates say the fear of being deported is keeping a lot of undocumented Texan families from seeking potentially life-saving help.
“They don’t really want to do that, because they are afraid that if they ask you for documents and you don’t have any, you are going to put you into a different group. And they will give you to help right now but afterwards, they are going to turn you into ICE,” said Patricia Nunez.
Many are already uneasy because of a strict immigration enforcement bill, called SB-4, that was set to take effect in Texas September 1st, until a federal judge temporarily blocked it. Houston mayor
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has said repeatedly that there will be no immigration enforcement at flood shelters.
“If you are in a stressful situation. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what your status is, I do not want you to run the risk of losing your life or a family member because you are concerned about SB-4 or anything else,” said Turner. “If someone comes and tries to deport you because you needed help, I will represent you myself.”
Fil-Am Nelvin Adriatico serves on the city of Houston’s Office of New Americans and Immigrant Communities, which has established a fund to help undocumented immigrants to address the unique challenges they face in the wake of this natural disaster.
“It’s really going to help a lot of people. Especially those who are not qualified to get help from FEMA. This will allow them to request for anything that can help them restore their houses. Especially if they are not going to have jobs for the time being.”
But not everyone believes undocumented immigrants should receive disaster relief.
“There’s a basic difference between immediate emergency assistance; in other words, pulling people off the roof of a house giving them you know water in an emergency shelter, that kind of thing that’s the that’s appropriate for everybody,” said . Mark Krikorian, executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies. “It’s the next stage the post emergency assistance that’s funded by my tax money and yours, which should not be going to people who have broken our laws and shouldn’t even be in the United States.”
FEMA released a statement confirming that undocumented families need one family member who is a citizen, and has a social security number to apply for disaster assistance.
But trust in the Houston immigrant community is low.
“We heard what the mayor of Houston said not to be afraid because no one’s going to be asking you for documents, but our community is so afraid they don’t trust what people are telling them,” said Nunez, “because they are going through a lot.”
ICE, border patrol, and FEMA are all under the same department — the Department of Homeland Security, which immigrant advocates say does little to alleviate deportation fears.
They say undocumented flood victims unwilling to come forward for aid, will have to rely on other resources for months to come.