Search-and-Rescue workers in Colorado are facing a common problem on their missions to find flood survivors: some undocumented immigrants won’t open the door or answer phone calls.
The rising flood waters and the imminent threat of bodily harm aren’t the problem for immigrants. It’s the fear that the person at the door works for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
"My husband was with the baby. He didn't answer because he was afraid it was the ICE," Augustina Tema told the Denver Post. "He called me at work. He didn't know what to do."
Tema, who is a legal resident from Guatamala and works as cleaner at Walmart, said that despite losing many of her personal belonging to the raging flood waters she is worried about applying for assistance because she is unsure how this will affect her undocumented husband.
"I am a little confused. I am trying to rescue some of my memories," Tema said.
Tema’s predicament, and that of many of her neighbors in the Eastwood Mobile Home Park in Greeley, Colo. who are undocumented, is similar to those faced by undocumented immigrants following last year’s Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and many other U.S. natural disasters.
Despite the concerns, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have encouraged residents – legal or not – to apply for help – even if undocumented immigrants don’t apply for cash assistance. FEMA officials said that the undocumented can receive other benefits, including help with transportation, emergency medical care and food, water and other emergency supplies.
They can also receive help from the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army without divulging their immigrations status.
Following Hurricane Sandy, FEMA representatives working on disaster relief in New York City told Fox News Latino that undocumented immigrants do not need a Social Security number to apply for aid. The agency also assured them they will not report them to immigration officials.
Besides federal aid, representatives from local churches and advocacy groups have set up a seminar where immigration attorneys and college students help immigrants obtain crucial documents – work permits, ID cards and other documents – that may have been lost in the flood.
Despite the guarantees of assistance from federal and local organizations, some immigrants are still afraid to seek aid.
"As an undocumented, no one cares if you don't have a job or can't find a place to live," Angel Pérez, an undocumented worker told the Denver Post. "But we've lived in Colorado 15 years. We speak the language. We're caring like people here. We are American-style."