Barriers To Water

Unauthorized immigrants face additional challenges in Flint water crisis.

Unauthorized Immigrants Face Additional Challenges In Flint Water Crisis

Even though President Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint, Michigan, more than 2 weeks ago, residents are still struggling to find safe water, let alone deal with the long-term impacts of lead poisoning. The state of emergency declaration provides federal aid to help local and state efforts to address the crisis in Flint. However, this aid isn’t reaching all Flint citizens. Due to fear surrounding their immigration status, many of the 1,000 unauthorized immigrants living in Flint have been unable to safely receive water during this crisis.

The water crisis in Flint began in April 2014 when a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s water source in an attempt to cut costs. The state Department of Environmental Quality did not add the needed chemicals to the local water, which was saltier and more corrosive. This caused lead to leach from the pipes, leading to elevated levels of lead in the city’s water. And based on emails from the office, Gov. Snyder’s office—which waited until January 2016 to declare a state of emergency—was made aware of the problem as many as six months ago. Flint will likely face long-lasting problems as a result of this crisis since elevated levels of lead were detected in children. Since lead poisoning is known to cause lasting mental and physical disabilities, schools in Flint are already preparing for children to enter the school system with developmental, behavioral, and cognitive challenges.

The state government’s delay to act has particularly impacted Flint’s unauthorized immigrants. According to a local ABC affiliate, many of the unauthorized immigrants were unaware of the lead content in Flint’s water until just a few weeks ago. To make matters worse, due to fears of deportation, many of the unauthorized immigrants are too scared to get safe water from the water distribution centers or open their doors to volunteers distributing water and filters. According to first-hand reports, some of the water distribution centers have been asking to see residents’ drivers’ licenses before giving them water, creating a significant barrier to water access. Many unauthorized immigrants likely do not have identification since Michigan law prevents unauthorized immigrants from applying for driver’s licenses and other forms of identification without proof of legal presence.

The Flint water crisis is not the first time that unauthorized immigrants have been afraid to access emergency service due to deportation concerns. After September 11th, unauthorized immigrants were afraid to seek help finding lost loved ones. And during Hurricane Katrina, FEMA had to release a statement informing unauthorized parents that they could apply for disaster aid on behalf of their children with legal status due to fear in the community.

The Flint water crisis comes at a time when fear is particularly high in the immigrant community. Three weeks ago, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been conducted raids in several states, detaining at least 121 people from immigrant families, many of whom came to the United States to escape violence. Since those raids, 77 of those people have been deported to Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico. Despite protests from advocacy groups, community leaders, and even nearly half of Senate Democrats, the Obama administration appears determined to continue with the removal of families. These raids have caused mass panic in communities across the country.

BOTTOM LINE: The Flint water crisis has caused many problems for residents, many of which will continue to have a lasting effect. Though officials are finally acting in Flint after months of delay, safe water is not reaching all of the residents in the city. Due to officials checking drivers’ licenses and other barriers, many of the 1,000 unauthorized residents in Flint lack access to safe water, endangering their health.

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