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.