Hurricane Harvey has left the Houston region reeling from its fury with at least 44 feared dead and the worth of property damaged running into billions of dollars. Houston holds about 575,000 undocumented immigrants – quite literally the third-largest unauthorized/undocumented immigrant population in the US.
- Amongst Hurricane Harvey’s many survivors, Magdalena wishes to be identified only by her first name, as she’s an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador.
- She and her family of seven have been living in the US illegally, but barely managing to survive through her sister and brother-in-law’s poverty-level wages.
- They work at a factory and a meatpacking plant respectively.
- Magdalena and her family, though have survived the hurricane, their livelihoods have been destroyed with no job in hand for the immediate future.
- To make it worse, Harvey flooded one of their rooms in their already limited two-bedroom southeast Houston apartment.
- To add further agony, her daughter, daughter’s partner and their three young children’s apartment also stand destroyed. So, a two-bedroom, one bathroom apartment now holds 12 in its belly!
- During the course of an interview in her already cramped living space, Magdalena quipped that at least they were all healthy, and she was hoping that they’ll all get through with God’s help.
Earlier, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies had announced that they wouldn’t conduct routine immigration enforcement operations at the evac sites, food banks or shelters.
- Looking at the bigger picture, there are several undocumented immigrants like Magdalena who’re hesitant about reaching out to the government for receiving help due to postures adopted by the U.S. President Trump, the Texan Governor Greg Abbott and other similar politicians who’re intent to crack down on such immigrant groups.
- As a minor relief in the immigrant’s struggle, last Wednesday a federal judge had granted an injunction against the “sanctuary cities” bill which had the complete backing of Abbott, who later went on to criticize the injunction.
- A large part of Houston’s undocumented immigrants end up working in meagre-paying jobs in construction, services and manufacturing industries, and these are the main industries that have been hit hard due to Harvey, one of the worst damaging storms in the U.S. history.
- Harvey has directly affected the livelihood of immigrants who’ll now have to face threats from property owners who might evict them if they fail in paying their rents/bills on time.
- Several Samaritans have pitched in to assist these undocumented immigrants and have appealed to the property owners to give these immigrants some extra time to pay their rents this month.
- One such activist Rev. Edward Gomez said that some owners listened to his/their appeals while some others didn’t.
FEMA to the fore:
- Assistances to the tune of $114 million have already been approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to about 116,000 survivors of the deadly storm. Alas, the undocumented immigrants are ineligible to stake any claims from the FEMA.
- FEMA also provides rental relief assistance of up to two months, but needs that there should be at least one U.S. Citizen or legal resident should reside in the home that claims relief assistance.
In Magdalena’s case, while there are two legal residents in her home, they still hesitate to approach FEMA, fearing that FEMA might be used by the government to round up people like her.