IMMOKALEE, Fla. -- As many apply for FEMA assistance, some are apprehensive to ask for the help their families need because of citizenship status.
Parts of Immokalee were devastated because of Hurricane Irma. Neli Rodriguez, who works for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, tells 4 In Your Corner FEMA has been offering assistance in the area. However, talking to several people in the community, applying for assistance is a difficult subject to talk about. "What we've seen here after the hurricane is a great need. Many families were affected," said Rodriguez through a translator. "Many are afraid to reveal that information, especially because of the legal status of some in the comminuty."
The area is home to many migrant workers, some without citizenship status. Many have families, and have American children. Because federal assistance programs require information such as social security numbers and documentation status, many are afraid to apply for FEMA aid. Rodriguez adds part of the struggle is not being fully informed. "In some of these people's native countries, programs like FEMA don't exist. Sometimes, organizations do not take the time to explain to the community what exactly they are, what the benefits are, and whether you qualify," Rodriguez said.
4 In Your Corner spoke with FEMA to find out what assistance requirements are in terms of documentation status. We learned FEMA cannot provide financial assistance to non-citizens, but if there is an adult in the household who is a citizen, or resident with a green card, they can register the entire household for help. One can also register a household on behalf of a minor child if they are a citizen. "FEMA is here on a humanitarian mission. We do not collect any information on immigration status. We're really about connecting people in need with resources available," said FEMA representative Lynn Kimbrough.
While undocumented people are not eligible for financial help, they can qualify for other types of FEMA assistance. There are also assistance programs available through the state and local agencies. "I can assure people that no matter your immigration status, or any type of status, that you will be treated with dignity and respect and we will try to connect you with every resource you need as we try to move forward and recover from Hurricane Irma," added Kimbrough.
If you do not know if you qualify for assistance, FEMA's website has options for you.