Reports indicate that illegal immigrants are being hit hard in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Now just over a month after the hurricane hit, fear of deportation lingers for many immigrants who are afraid to come forward but are in need of help. However, for many undocumented immigrants, they are not even eligible for help from FEMA because of their immigration status.
“Unfortunately, many of the individual assistance programs administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency are only open to U.S. citizens or noncitizens with a ‘qualified alien’ status as defined in federal law,” said Barbara Weiner from the Empire Justice Center. “Programs restricted to those in a qualifying immigration status include cash assistance, rental assistance and transitional shelter assistance.”
As FEMA officials, National Guard and other storm rescue teams made their way around devastated neighborhoods, immigration groups say that many undocumented residents have remained hidden, not getting the help they need. Agencies are now trying to get the word out about assistance that is available.
Non-citizens who are eligible to apply for help under these program because they meet FEMA’s citizenship status requirements include lawful permanent residents, refugees, asylees and individuals granted withholding of deportation/removal, Cuban/Haitian entrants, victims of trafficking, individuals granted parole for a period of one year or more and battered spouses or children of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent
residents who are in the process of petitioning the immigration service.
“Nevertheless, mixed status households in need of disaster relief are eligible to apply for FEMA programs as long as the household has at least one member who is a U.S. citizen or who is in a qualifying immigration status,” Weiner said. “This is true even if it is only a child in the household who meets the citizenship status requirements.”
Wiener added that the Social Security number of the eligible household members will have to be provided. Ineligible non-citizens who are making the application on behalf of eligible family members don’t need to provide any information about their own status.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) also announced various measures to aid those affected by Hurricane Sandy. “USCIS understands that a natural disaster can affect an individual’s ability to maintain lawful immigration status or obtain certain other immigration benefits,” the agency stated.
During the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) reports that more than 100 special agent volunteers with HSI New York have united with members of HSI New York’s special response team (SRT) and rapid response team (RRT) to help those in need. In a statement, ICE spokesman Luis Martinez reportedly said that ICE conducted limited street enforcement operations.
“We will be resuming normal enforcement activity, with continued emphasis on at-large criminal aliens, in the near future,” the agency said.