If history repeats itself undocumented immigrants will be a large part of Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts but they themselves won’t qualify for financial assistance from FEMA.
Undocumented Immigrants on the eastern seaboard are among those bearing the brunt of Hurricane Sandy but many of them won’t be able to access FEMA subsidies unless their is someone with legal resident status in their home.
People issued a legal permanent resident card - commonly referred to as “a green card” - may apply for assistance if they have disaster-related losses. Other non-citizens who can apply with FEMA include those with legal resident status because of asylum, refugee status, parole status, suspension of deportation status or status as victims of domestic violence.
Only one member of a household needs to be eligible to qualify the entire household for assistance, so parents and guardians may apply for FEMA subsidies on behalf of a minor child here with legal resident status. A household with family members with mixed immigration status may be eligible for disaster assistance as long as someone with legal resident status is in their home.
FEMA says they do not collect information on the immigration status of other household members.
The irony is that while some undocumented immigrants will not be able to access FEMA assistance they will likely play a major role in Sandy recovery.
Immigrant labor made was a major part of rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In the days after Katrina the government dropped the federal requirement to pay minimum wage and lifted a requirement for companies to prove their workers’ legal status.
If history repeats itself, low-wage and hazardous jobs that involve mold and other toxic environments will be saved for undocumented immigrants.
But so far labor laws are fairing better than they did after Katrina, according to Patrick Vinck, a researcher at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative who studied the contribution of the immigrant workforce in rebuilding New Orleans after Katrina.
“So far we haven’t seen any of the rules change,” Vinck told PRI’s “The World” earlier this month. “That being said immigration enforcement is still there and that very often prevents undocumented worker from seeking help, from demanding that they work in safe conditions, so they will be working in that challenging environments regardless of the requirement from the federal government”