Senate Democrats

Democratic Leadership, Latino and Asian Pacific Islander Advocates Discuss Immigrants’ Challenges Post-Katrina

Problems highlight another reason why comprehensive immigration reform is needed

WASHINGTON, DC – Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, Senator Edward Kennedy (MA), Senator Barbara Boxer (CA), Senator Richard Durbin (IL), and Congressman Mike Honda (CA-5) met today with community, faith and relief services leaders including Rev. Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA, Cecilia Muñoz, Director of Outreach Advocacy, Research, Legislation at the National Council of La Raza, Tram Nguyen, Katrina Relief Program Manager at Boat People SOS and Brent Wilkes, Executive Director of the League of United Latin American Citizens to discuss the challenges faced by the immigrant communities in the Gulf Coast after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Asian Pacific Islander and Latino immigrant communities have been an integral and growing part of the larger Gulf coast community for some time. Like individuals up and down the Gulf Coast, these communities have experienced tremendous loss in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Rita.

Congressional Democrats are teaming up with immigrant advocates to address the needs of those who were affected by Katrina, to ensure access to relief services without fear of deportation and to help them receive the resources that they need to rebuild their lives.

“I am absolutely outraged about some of the things I have heard,” said Senator Reid. “Reports that local police and the U.S. Marshals have raided Red Cross shelters and asked for immigration documents from anybody who looked Latino and accounts that the Bush administration has placed individuals seeking emergency aid in deportation proceedings. This is another reason we need comprehensive immigration reform, so that no one will have to suffer such questioning in the case of an emergency.”

“This disaster reminds us that we are all part of the American family – and we have a responsibility to help members of that family when they are in need,” said Senator Kennedy. “Yet, Republicans have no problem cutting the vital services and benefits that people affected by Katrina need most, including immigrants — at the same time that they refuse to take tax cuts off the chopping block to pay for Katrina relief. In these difficult times, America must reaffirm its commitment to the humanitarian treatment of immigrants and their families. I look forward to introducing a bill that would remedy some of the immigration-related problems of victims of Hurricane Katrina and Rita.” Immigrant communities in the Gulf Coast face three key challenges: access to relief services without fear of DHS retribution; equal access to social safety net programs such as Medicaid, Food Stamps, and TANF; and immigration laws and regulations that, without flexibility, will unfairly punish individuals, including many who are lawfully present in our country.

“Regarding first response and recovery assistance for future disasters, I want to be sure that the federal government can arrange appropriate assistance for individuals and communities that have unique special needs – including the elderly, people with physical disabilities, and individuals whose access to disaster relief services may be hindered by linguistic and cultural barriers,” said Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA), Chair of the Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC). “My main focus will be evaluating legislation to ensure that federal services offer language services and have full cultural competency, and I will work on other immigration issues with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to address immigrant communities’ fears that accessing services can result in deportation or other legal action.”

“It’s important to be prepared to protect all Americans. We’ll only be safe as a country when we have the systems in place to keep everyone safe,” said Cecilia Muñoz.

“Government social service agencies across the board must work with community-based, linguistically competent organizations to build the trans-cultural bridge to meet the long-term needs of the Vietnamese and other minority evacuees,” said Tram Nguyen. “The ad- hoc coalition of service providers in Houston has worked tirelessly to meet their immediate needs. We must extend this spirit of collaboration to Washington and in local and state government to address the social injustices the Vietnamese community has faced. Only by sharing our resources can we ensure these evacuees a dignified recovery and rebuilding.”

Senate Democrats quickly responded to the hurricanes by introducing a proposal that makes sure victims have the health care, housing and financial relief they need. The legislation also specifically reiterates the requirement to comply with civil rights protections.

Washington Republicans have done virtually nothing to act on the legislation introduced by Democrats and they are now poised to make deep cuts to the programs many of Katrina’s victims need – programs like Medicaid and housing- so they can give tax breaks to their special interest friends.

“Democrats believe America can do better. We cannot allow victims to be abandoned. We must make sure everyone gets the food, shelter and basic necessities they need. We have made relief for Katrina one of our top priorities, and we will continue to fight until the Senate addresses it” said Reid.