Post-Sandy, The Undocumented Are Desperate
Superstorm Sandy devastated the East Coast and left behind an estimated $60 billion in damages, drastically changing the lives of millions of Americans. The impact, which hit the poor harder than most, has been especially hard for the growing Hispanic population in Staten Island, Port Richmond, and the surrounding areas.
Ineligible for federal disaster-relief aid, undocumented immigrants must rebuild from the ground up with little to no financial assistance, an NPR report explains. According to FEMA's online Q&A, undocumented immigrants are available for non-cash emergency aid including crisis counseling and disaster legal services, which does not include Disaster Unemployment Aid or Household Program Assistance. In order to qualify for financial federal aid, at least one member of the family (generally a child) must be a US citizen with a Social Security Number.
The result is that many families affected by Sandy don't have the money needed to replace household essentials, but they face even greater problems. The NPR story profiles a New York family that lost their house and nearly all of their possessions to Sandy flooding. Now apartment-hunting for an affordable new home, their daughter explains why the search has been especially difficult for her family: "most of [the apartments] ask for a credit report or your bank account number," services that remain limited to individuals without Social Security Numbers.
Even after securing a new home and piecing together essentials like beds, kitchenware, and tables, undocumented immigrants still have to find a way to afford food on an even tighter budget. Without a US citizen who has lived in the US for at least 5 years (children are exempted from the 5 year residency requirement), undocumented families are ineligible for the food stamps that help so many low-income families across the country. Immigrants staying temporarily in the US with work or student visas are ineligible for federal food stamps, but can receive benefits from state-funded food programs. However, there are no federal or state programs that provide food assistance to undocumented immigrants.
Lauren Burke, the Executive Director of Atlas:DIY, an empowerment center for immigrant youth and their allies, explained that "[u]ndocumented families are much less likely to have insurance, they're much less likely to own their homes, they're much less likely to have any of the support systems that we think about having in place for a natural disaster."
Moreover, with limited English skills, some immigrant communities, Hispanic and non-Hispanic, are simply unaware of the resources available to them. Recovery remains difficult for Superstorm Sandy's forgotten victims, and many families in immigrant communities are among the hardest hit.
Jennifer Hicks is a Communications Intern for Campus Progress.