Hiding In Plain Sight: New York’s Undocumented Immigrants and Hurricane Sandy

11/15/2012 11:20 AM |


Although it is no longer front page news, thousands of New Yorkers are still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. But one group of New Yorkers has gone unnoticed in the recovery: undocumented immigrants. As a former undocumented immigrant myself, this group’s plight is something that I can’t ignore like many New Yorkers seem to. Here are some facts about undocumented immigrants that many people are unaware of: they do not get financial aid for school or food stamps or free health care. They are exploited and they accept it because it is still better than what they left to come here. But their experience needs to be reflected on, because how we treat undocumented immigrants demonstrates a lot about us as a society.

The day after Hurricane Sandy, my husband and I went to the nearest diner for brunch. We sat down and our waiter took our order. This is just an assumption, but it is more than a little bit likely that this man was undocumented. And even if our waiter wasn’t, the guys in the back washing the dishes and making our food surely were. The fact is that these types of low-paying service jobs in New York City are almost exclusively held by undocumented immigrants because, let’s face it, how many Americans actually want to wash dishes, clean toilets, and do other menial jobs for 7 dollars an hour—or less—with absolutely no rights or benefits?

Many men and women—just like the waiter, the dishwashers and busboys at the diner—went to work the day after Sandy, taking care of people’s children, cleaning strangers’ houses, taking care of other people’s grandmothers and grandfathers. Regardless of whether their own homes were flooded or washed away, these undocumented immigrants had to go to work the next day. And what’s more, when these men and women go back to their own hurricane-damaged homes, no one will help them. FEMA won’t be there to assist them, so they will have to rely on local shelters and local donation centers that don’t care about their immigration status. Unfortunately, many of these immigrants might not even know about this option because of how poorly news travel in their circles—especially the non-English speaking ones.

3 Comment

  • How many Americans actually want to wash dishes, clean toilets, and do other menial jobs for 7 dollars an hour? We’ll, I washed dishes for minimum wage salary ($1 an hour) for a summer job. That was a long time ago when this was a great country that protected its borders, had affordable housing, affordable college educations, and lots of jobs. Mainly because there were about 150 million people, rather than over 300 million.

  • good article

  • Erik, immigrants didn’t suddenly pop up out of nowhere in the last few decades. They were always here; the difference is, what started this country is now a crime. And mainly, you’re (not you, but the people behind the bureaucratic crap) denying lots of hardworking people the chance to prove themselves. I’m pretty sure if one of them became a scientist and found the cure for cancer and selflessly gave it out without any demands, you would have no problem with that – and let me tell you, you’re not going to see an American (someone who was born here and “has no immigrant ancestors” – I put that in quotation marks because that is pretty much impossible, as this country was built on immigration) come up with the cure for cancer. If and when it’ll happen, it’ll be by someone who had to earn their place in this society. And really, no one is asking for amnesty. People today, the ones that had the * privilege* to grow up here legally are mostly spoiled. Maybe one or two out of ten of those kids will take on dish-washing jobs, or cleaning toilets; but for the most part, they won’t – and kids that work legally would certainly not do it for a dollar an hour (that had to be a REALLY long time ago, proving my point that the current generation just doesn’t have it in themselves to work hard, because their parents DID work hard and the parents don’t want their children to do the same).
    Regardless, my whole point is, there were always a lot of immigrants, and they all would love to contribute to this society by paying taxes (think about all the money it would bring in to have those immigrants pay taxes!) and going to jury duty and doing all the jobs that no one else wants to. You can’t ban immigration, but you can control it.