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For New York's Undocumented, a Post-Sandy Slog

  • Carolyn Weaver

Immigrants in the New York area, including many undocumented Mexicans living on Staten Island, were among the hardest-hit victims of Hurricane Sandy.

But for the Glorias, finding a way out of financial turmoil has proven especially difficult. From grandparents to a newborn baby, twelve members of the extended family were flooded out of four separate apartments, forcing them to inhabit a single-family home, sleeping three and four to a bedroom.

“We lost everything. We just found everything ruined from the water. They told us to take what was not ruined, but everything was,” says 34-year-old Veronica Gloria.

Now she and her husband Umberto, parents of four-month-old Christian and three-year-old Umberto Jr., have to start all over. While the Glorias’ church and other charities have donated furniture, and everyone able to work is doing so, it will take time to save enough money to rent new apartments.

But the family has another problem: Only the youngest, who were born in New York, are U.S. citizens and thus eligible for food stamps and federal emergency aid. The parents can apply only on behalf of their own children.

“We are not documented,” says Victoria. “So in the beginning I was afraid to apply. And I’m still a little afraid.”

Putting fears aside, however, she and her U.S.-born, 18-year-old nephew, Sergio Gloria, both applied.

“It concerns [me] because my family isn’t citizens from the U.S." says Sergio, who grew up in Staten Island. "It concerns me because they’re exposed, and I don’t know if it’s going to affect them or not."

While FEMA, the U.S. federal agency that distributes emergency aid, has promised not to share information about Sandy aid applicants with immigration officials, worries persist.

“[Undocumented immigrants] don’t have the confidence to come out," says Jessica Carmona of Make the Road New York, a rights advocacy group for immigrants and low-income people. "They have that fear of being deported ... of being separated from their families, so they don’t have the confidence to come out and speak about their needs.”

According to Carlos Sada, Mexico’s consul-general in New York, the majority of undocumented immigrants, many of whom were barely scraping by even before the storm, inhabit below-ground apartments.

“People lost everything, in the sense that they are very vulnerable because they used to live in very modest houses,” he says. "They were living in the basements, and those were the ones that were flooded.”

In some case, Sada notes, landlords are still demanding rental payments on uninhabitable apartments. In response, the Mexican government has mounted an outreach effort, offering advice and cash-aid to Mexicans affected by the storm.

While the program has already issued a total of $370,000 to some 800 recipients, some are uneasy about the prospect of accepting help.

“A part of me felt like helping my family, [but] a part didn’t want to receive help," says Sergio. "But I thought about my family first, so I applied.”
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