Immigrants, suspicious of having possible interaction with local law enforcement officials, have potentially hindered the rescue and recovery efforts the officials tried to enact during the recent Colorado floods. As the findings of the Denver Post have relayed, an affected unauthorized immigrant choose to face risking injury or missing out on needed immediate assistance due to her fear of interacting with authorities. This woman also failed to register for any follow-up aid because of her husband’s status, a common fear held by other immigrant families. For the immigrant population, an additional fear during disasters is the fear of losing vital papers which chart their course along the path to legalization. Disaster-related documentation problems also plague individuals who are legally residing in the U.S. if the papers establishing that legal right to residency are destroyed. The inability of law enforcement to overcome the obstacle of mistrust has caused a reduction in the ability to ensure public safety in affected areas.
A similar situation arose during Hurricane Sandy, where the Mexican consulate shared a belief that approximately 380 Hispanic citizens in New Jersey and New York experienced losses from the storm, for which they received no aid to offset. The prevailing belief among undocumented immigrants is that they are not eligible for any aid.
Even though undocumented immigrants are not eligible for cash assistance, FEMA still suggests that any affected undocumented immigrants register for assistance following any disaster because other benefits may be within the scope of aid available to them, including food, water, emergency health care, and transportation.
FEMA representatives have indicated that any FEMA personnel encountering flood victims will protect the privacy of any flood victims. A type of blanket statement concerning treatment of immigrants who are disaster victims would make evacuating communities in the face of disaster an easier matter when dealing with immigrants fearing deportation. This very real fear should not be allowed to put a barrier in the way of community safety; that is a policy which should take precedence in these types of disasters.
When an important situation such as disaster relief becomes entangled with the day-to-day duties of local officers, this inadvertent unfortunate mixing of roles impedes efforts for community safety if people being helped fear deportation by their helpers. This same situation of blurring the lines between everyday enforcement functions and special emergency actions in a particular emergency scenario is the situation which law enforcement officers throughout the nation have highlighted in their opposition to legislation which would put the burden of immigration on the officers at the same time that they had regular law enforcement duties with those same individuals.
As an immigration attorney, I am well acquainted with the obstacles that immigrants encounter when dealing with law enforcement personnel. I feel very strongly that it’s important to not blur the between disaster relief and immigration law enforcement. Natural disasters are not planned for and immigrants should not have to suffer when the unthinkable happens.
If you encounter problems in this area, or are facing issues as it relates to family law in the Austin, TX area, please contact us to discuss your particular situation. We can be reached at 512-215-5225.