Undocumented Immigrants Have Nowhere to Turn for Sandy Help

Unable to receive Hurricane Sandy related aid, undocumented immigrants have been hit particularly hard, especially on Staten Island, where, in the photo above, with the help of Make the Road New York, they’re protesting the inability to access help. Maria Raquel Sanchez, mentioned below, stands second from the right, holding the corner of the banner. (Photo from Make the Road NY/City Limits)

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the challenges faced by undocumented immigrants have accumulated with lost jobs, lost housing, denial of help, and for some, an increased fear of being exposed.

For many of the 81,000 mostly Mexican immigrants on Midland Beach on Staten Island, it’s been especially difficult, reports Ray Sanchez for City Limits. Undocumented immigrants there, as with others throughout Sandy-hit areas, either have tried seeking out aid or resisted from fear of doing so. Either way, there’s nothing in the picture for them.

Without a Social Security number, immigrants have been denied federal disaster unemployment insurance or Federal Emergency Management Agency cash assistance for temporary housing and replacing damaged possessions. Some fear that seeking help could lead to detention or deportation. Some who have sought help, and have eligible family members, say they’ve been denied but not told why. Additionally, advocates say, FEMA rejects applications with more than one person requesting aid from the same address, even though many immigrants are doubled and tripled up in apartments.

Sanchez profiles two families in Midland Beach. Their stories give an intimate glimpse into the adversities endured by an already vulnerable community.

Juan Antonio Pérez, 43, and wife Blanca Astorga, have lost their jobs and been on the verge of losing the home they share with their three daughters and three other family members. They faced a landlord who wanted to evict them, and lived without heat or hot water for almost two months.

Like many survivors, Perez and his family came to depend on food distribution centers. But the one closest to him recently started asking for FEMA numbers.

“They wouldn’t help me,” he says. “I have no papers.”

After the storm, Perez secured part-time work cleaning flooded basements. It was a dangerous job, performed without protective gear. “But I needed the work,” he says. When that tailed off he got occasional work washing dishes but the job is not steady.

Perez recently walked to a FEMA center on Staten Island to inquire about post-Sandy construction and cleaning jobs. He was handed an Internet address.

“I don’t have Internet,” he says. “I don’t even have a computer.”

Maria Raquel Sanchez thought she and her family – her son, his pregnant wife and their four-year-old son – were going to die as the water surged into their home. After the hurricane, the home owner deemed the house uninhabitable, leaving the family to jump from relative to relative. Sanchez has lived as an undocumented immigrant on Staten Island for 21 years and lost her job taking care of children after the family moved from the borough following Sandy. Because her grandson was born in the United States, Sanchez’s daughter-in-law qualified for FEMA, but the rest of the family did not, like many undocumented hurricane victims.

Many undocumented immigrants, some eligible for FEMA benefits, were “afraid to come forward and apply for fear of deportation or reprisal,” according to a report compiled by Make the Road New York.

“The presence of military uniforms on the ground scared people,” says Gonzalo Mercado, executive director of El Centro del Inmigrante, a day laborers’ program on Staten Island. “One family was so scared they wouldn’t answer the door to the consul of Mexico.”

“They’re a hidden community,” says Jessica Carmona, a Make the Road New York advocate in Midland Beach.

Sanchez did receive $450 from the Mexican Consulate from funds given to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

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  1. Pingback: Preguntas y respuestas para indocumentados en situación de emergencia por Harvey - Noticias

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