Posted on October 7, 2004

Illegal Migrants Can Get Federal Aid

Alfonso Chardy, Miami Herald, Oct. 6

Undocumented migrants affected by hurricanes aren’t eligible for emergency cash grants, but they can claim federal aid on behalf of their U.S.-born children or other relatives without being asked about their own immigration status, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

For the first time since Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, federal officials have spelled out how households of illegal migrants can receive aid. The information was released in statements this week.

The details come after at least one South Florida immigrant community activist, Honduran Unity head José Lagos, traveled to Washington last week. Lagos complained to federal immigration officials that undocumented migrants were afraid to approach federal relief agencies for fear of being deported.

Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency said illegal migrants had nothing to fear. But Lagos said migrants needed reassurance from immigration officials that they would not be detained and deported while seeking aid.

On Monday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued statements reassuring undocumented migrants seeking hurricane aid that they need not worry about their immigration status, said Dan Kane, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services.


“I’m happy they have issued these statements,” Lagos said Tuesday night. “They will go a long way to reassure undocumented people who were fearful.”

The statements said undocumented migrants seeking help will not be asked about their immigration status or asked to sign documents regarding immigration status.

Though undocumented migrants are not entitled to cash or unemployment disaster aid, they can benefit from it if they have U.S.-born children or other members of their household who are U.S. citizens or legally in the country.

“You may . . . apply on behalf of your U.S. citizen child, or another adult household member may qualify the household for assistance,” the statement said. It added that so-called “qualified aliens” can apply for aid.

A “qualified alien” includes someone with a green card, refugee or asylee status, parole into the U.S. for at least one year, conditional entry or a withholding of deportation, the statement said.


Justo Hernández, deputy federal coordinating officer for FEMA disasters in Florida, said undocumented migrants can also use a license or passport from their home country.

FEMA will direct undocumented migrants with no eligible relatives to private groups that can help, such as the American Red Cross, Catholic Charities Farmworkers’ Ministry or Lutheran Services of Florida.