CREDIT: Jose Rodriguez
Twenty-two year old Jose Rodriguez recalls his family being abruptly woken up by a 2:30 a.m. phone call from a reverse 9-1-1 system when a deluge of water flooded a hundred-mile expanse of Colorado’s Front Range nearly two weeks ago. At 3 a.m., a police officer banged on the door at his Longmont, Colorado home to call for a mandatory evacuation. Jose opened the door only when he peered out his window and saw his neighbors standing out in the street.
Thousands of other families across Colorado are still experiencing Jose’s woes of dealing with cleanup. But Jose and his parents are one among many immigrants in Colorado who have the extra burden of being undocumented. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal aid for cleanup and rebuilding efforts.
Generally, the primary income earner must be the one who applies for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) federal aid. The primary breadwinner in Jose’s case is his undocumented father. After the Rodriguez family was evacuated to the city’s recovery center, and as Jose and his family were pondering the fate of their house, they were told that his family would likely be disqualified for federal aid.
“I guess throughout the flood, we weren’t really sure if we had anything to go back to, and now the only place that we’re trying to get help, they’re saying, ‘you know what? We can’t do anything about it, so you’re on your own.’ It’s somewhat of a bad feeling just to hear basically,” he said.
Jose was then told by an aid worker that they could try applying through his U.S.-citizen younger brother, but that the application would most likely be flagged for anomalies and be denied.
“They mentioned that whenever that happens, when the application is filled out that way, the application takes longer or the system just plain out denies it because it’s something strange for the system and it’s something that will be flagged. From what we heard, we’re expecting to be denied aid,” he said. “It would have been easier if it were just evacuation. [My father and I] can get over that week of not working, but not for recovering the income and not receiving aid for the cleanup.”
CREDIT: Jose Rodriguez
Although FEMA strictly prohibits undocumented immigrants from receiving cash assistance, officials are urging flood victims “to register with the agency because they can receive other benefits, including help with transportation, emergency medical care, and food, water and other emergency supplies.”
Undocumented immigrants do not qualify for public benefits, so it’s almost assured that Jose and his family will not receive federal cash assistance. And while the American Red Cross and Salvation Army do not look at immigration status when they issue immediate disaster relief supplies, the organizations do not provide permanent solutions.
While aid is difficult to come by especially for undocumented immigrants, organizations are taking cues from the lack of response provided for immigrants during previous natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. In fact, immigration advocates and other organizations have already set up seminars to help immigrants pull together the necessary documents for obtaining general assistance.
Many immigrants lost their “paper trail” of documents to prove their presence in the country (a necessary requirement for programs like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program which requires undocumented youths to prove that they were in the country before June 15, 2007). Some immigrants scrambled to haul plastic cartons containing their green cards and other legal documents during the flood.
Back in Longmont, Jose remains optimistic. “Thankfully we are all safe, material things come and go with hard work like my mom says,” Jose says. “I’m thankful [it was] only material damage.”