Fear following a disaster is debilitating. Future uncertainties become the new norm for those at a disaster’s focal point.
For those whom are legally excluded from receiving government aid, fear is amplified beyond reasonable measure.
Linda Colón works as a limited English proficiency specialist with the Federal Emergency Outreach Agency or FEMA.
“I work with Spanish speakers, Italians, it doesn’t matter what language,” Colón said.
FEMA, as a government agency, is limited in whom it is able to offer aid to.
“If they’re undocumented, the federal government cannot assist them,” Colón said.
By nature, the communities that Linda works with tend to contain undocumented people.
Currently, she is working along eastern Nebraska following the floods of spring 2019.
According to the Pew Research Center, there are around 60,000 undocumented immigrants in Nebraska. To know how many have been affected by the flood is hard to quantify.
“The predominant language in this [Nebraska’s] disaster is Spanish. So for the Latino or Hispanic population, we give them all the information as needed in Spanish,” she said. “It is translated by professional translators that we contract, and it’s taken out to the field by our disaster survivor assistance teams.“
Although the government is unable to aid undocumented people outright, at times there are loopholes in the policy that can be worked around.
“Sometimes there are occasions where an undocumented mother, father, or grandmother may be taking care of a specific relative that is documented,” Colón said. “That documented individual, as long as they were living in the primary house where the disaster affected them, that individual will receive help.”
This is not common knowledge to many; more importantly, those who are undocumented and would be the ones benefitting from aid.
According to Pew Research Center, 9.2% of K-12 students in Nebraska live with an undocumented guardian.
Colón’s job is translating vital recovery information. This reaches new levels of significance when dealing with undocumented people, especially when they are at their most vulnerable after a disaster.
While FEMA is unable to assist financially to undocumented peoples, it is able to direct them in the direction of those who can.
“The federal government cannot assist them, so those long term recoveries will have other committees that can. The churches, you know, 501(c)3 compliant organizations that can help them,” Colón said.
These charitable organizations are able to assist those in need regardless of citizenship.
“As you rebuild, state and local governments will be there … While the State is here for you in your hour of need, the most powerful tool in any recovery is Nebraska’s dedication to the principle of neighbor helping neighbor,” Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts said in a letter from the governor in the Nebraska Disaster Resource Guide that was produced after the flood.
The government recognizes there are people in need. The generosity is apparent. For some, generosity can only be accepted by jumping through loopholes they are not aware of.
“There are survivors,” Colón said. “There is a mission, and the goal is to accomplish that mission and help as many as we can who have been affected by that disaster.”