Hurricane Relief For Undocumented Residents

By Murray Andrews 

The aftermath of Hurricane Florence has left thousands of families scrambling to maintain what’s left of their lives, seeking assistance in the form of shelter, food assistance, and economic help. While much of this assistance is readily available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), undocumented communities often receive the least help, and are thus the hardest hit.  

FEMA provides multiple assistance programs for those affected. Natural disasters such as Hurricane Florence decimate businesses, causing economic ruin for all affected, and the programs provided by FEMA allow the affected to recover properly. However, many of these programs, including cash assistance (individual and household) and Disaster Unemployment Assistance, are unavailable to undocumented immigrants. The inability to receive this economic relief sets immigrant communities back significantly in their recovery.

In times of severe environmental disaster, the federal government provides resources for recovery, and deploys agents from multiple agencies in order to increase the manpower available to assist affected communities including Customs and Border Patrol Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The presence of these agents, though perhaps well-intentioned, creates fear in undocumented communities, and often creates more harm than benefit. This fear discourages undocumented individuals from going to government establishments for aid and shelter. Reports from NPR, the New York Times, NBC, and The News & Observer (a North Carolinian newspaper), all document the extensive fear that has spread throughout undocumented communities.

Furthermore, in times of natural disaster the federal government normally releases a press statement to reassure undocumented immigrants that immigration agencies will focus on providing assistance and relief and will not enforce immigration laws. However, as of the morning that the hurricane touched down in North Carolina, no government release had been made to encourage undocumented individuals to seek help without fear of deportation. In fact, the director of FEMA, Jeff Byard, during a news conference in the buildup to the hurricane, refused to guarantee that undocumented immigrants would be safe in shelters. Compounding this, disaster communications are broadcasted almost exclusively in English, leaving Spanish-speaking families without vital disaster preparation advice. Unable to prepare properly and facing the prospect of deportation, many undocumented individuals are unable to escape the danger of the storm and are subsequently unable to recover from its devastation.

Without a doubt, the treatment of undocumented immigrants during times of natural disaster is simply not acceptable for a well-developed government such as the United States. Undocumented communities simply do not receive the quality of aid that is necessary to survive a natural disaster, and the YWCA stands against this injustice. Helping these communities in times of natural disaster will take drastic restructuring of FEMA’s provision of aid. In the meantime, donations can be made towards independent organizations such as the North Carolina Justice Center, who provides legal services and relief to immigrant communities.