September 16, 2005

Commentary:

Helping Immigrants on the Gulf Coast is America’s Moral Obligation

By Hon. Robert Menendez (D - NJ) and
Hon. James E. Clyburn (D - SC)


As America mourns in the aftermath of one of the most devastating tragedies in our history, we must keep vigilant in our efforts to help those in need. Often overlooked in this tragedy are the hundreds of thousands of immigrants on the Gulf Coast whose lives have been destroyed, even if they were fortunate enough to survive the hurricane and flooding. With their homes and worldly possessions washed away, their livelihoods ruined, and their communities destroyed, these immigrants have nowhere to go, no one to turn to, and often are wary of those sent to help them. The Bush Administration failed in one of its greatest moral tests: to protect those without the means to protect themselves. The time will come for those responsible for the failings of our government’s response to be held accountable. But now, as Americans from all walks of life, we must do everything in our power to help these most vulnerable people pick up the pieces and get back on their feet. We must bring them into the light, help them with food and medical needs, and allow them to recover free of persecution.

Helping Immigrants on the Gulf Coast is America’s Moral Obligation

As America mourns in the aftermath of one of the most devastating tragedies in our history, we must keep vigilant in our efforts to help those in need. Often overlooked in this tragedy are the hundreds of thousands of immigrants on the gulf coast whose lives have been destroyed, even if they were fortunate enough to survive the hurricane and flooding. Many are desperately poor and don’t understand English; these are some of the most vulnerable victims of the disaster. With their homes and worldly possessions washed away, their livelihoods ruined, and their communities destroyed, these immigrants have nowhere to go, no one to turn to, and often are wary of those sent to help them. As Americans from all walks of life, we must do everything in our power to help these most vulnerable people pick up the pieces and get back on their feet.

Hurricane Katrina was an unavoidable natural disaster, but the poor preparation and lack of urgency in our federal government’s response was avoidable. Regrettably, millions suffered needlessly because of government ineptitude. The Bush Administration failed in one of its greatest moral tests: to protect those without the means to protect themselves.

The time will come for those responsible for the failings of our government’s response to be held accountable. But for now we must help as many as we still can while focusing on a long-term plan to rebuild the communities and resuscitate the economy. Democrats have several proposals to help the people of the Gulf Coast, including immigrants who have helped drive the economy of that region:

· Food and Nutrition - Democrats are working to ensure that all legal resident immigrants who were affected by the hurricane will be able to get food stamps and nutrition assistance despite current restrictions on eligibility.

· Housing - Democrats believe that these families must have access to temporary emergency housing, and will work to expand federal facilities as well as create a voucher program.

· Economy - Democrats believe that the Disaster Unemployment Insurance program should be strengthened and expanded, including to those who have already exhausted their benefits. Small businesses should have timely access to disaster assistance to help build back the economy as soon as possible.

While there are no accurate numbers, most estimates point to hundreds of thousands of immigrants living along the affected areas of the gulf coast. Honduran officials estimate around 125,000 people from that country reside in Louisiana, predominantly in New Orleans. Over 40,000 Mexicans, mostly immigrants from the Yucatan state, are estimated to live in Louisiana. Many of these immigrants on the gulf coast live in small towns that have been completely destroyed by the hurricane.

One town in particular that has been destroyed by the hurricane is Bayou La Batre, made famous as the fishing town in the movie Forrest Gump. This town of 3,000 is two-thirds Hispanic and Vietnamese, most of them immigrants working in the fishing villages. Hurricane Katrina destroyed their homes, the boats they worked on, and polluted the waters they fished.

There are countless stories of immigrants, too afraid of federal authorities to accept assistance, sneaking in and out of shelters trying to find whatever supplies they can without risking discovery by authorities. We must reach out to these immigrants and show them we are trying to help. We must bring them into the light, help them with food and medical needs, and allow them to recover free of persecution. The mistakes have been made, but we must look forward and help those in the shadows to come forth and receive the aid many so desperately need.


Organizations Accepting In-Kind Donations for Hurricane Katrina Victims

Open on Weekends

JimsAir Aviation (619-298-7704)

Accepting in-kind donations of basic supplies such as baby formula, diapers, canned food, sports drinks, sleeping bags, tarps, tents, roofing supplies, flashlights, batteries, first aid items, over-the-counter medication, and toiletry items, but no clothing. Items can be delivered to JimsAir through Friday, Sept 16, between 9:30 am and 10:30 pm at JimsAir Aviation, 2904 Pacific Highway, San Diego 92101, on the northeast side of Lindbergh Field. Drop-offs accepted Saturday and Sunday. The supplies should be boxed and labeled to be delivered to the Gulf Coast region. *Sat & Sun Drop-off*

St Gregory the Great Parish Hall (858-653-3540)

Accepting in-kind donations of nonperishable food, clothing (large sizes especially), underwear (all sizes), tennis shoes, duffel bags, 5-gallon containers, blankets, baby items, strollers, toiletries, first aid items, cleaning supplies, school supplies, and tools. All items must be new. Drop off items between 9 am and 6 pm through Friday, Sept 16, at 11451 Blue Cypress Dr, San Diego 92131 in Scripps Ranch. Drop-offs can also be made on Saturday, Sept 10 and Sunday, Sept 11. Trucks will be filled and taken to people evacuated to areas around Alexandria and Leesville, Louisiana. *Sat & Sun Drop-off*

St Stephen’s Cathedral Church of God in Christ (619-262-2671)

Accepting in-kind donations through Sunday, Sept 11. They are accepting clothing, nonperishable food, bottled water, toiletries, diapers, toys, etc. They prefer donations be in boxes. The donation drop-off and distribution center at the church is open 9 am – 8:30 pm, at 5825 Imperial Ave, San Diego 92114 in the neighborhood of Encanto. A truck will be transporting all of the donations to the Gulf Coast. *Sat & Sun Drop-off*

Salvation Army

Accepting in-kind donations. Specify items for Hurricane Katrina relief by clearly marking. Check with locations for hours. Generally open on weekdays and Saturday, closed Sunday.

MONDAY TO FRIDAY ONLY

Binational Emergency Medical Care Committee (619-425-5080)

Accepting in-kind donations of diapers, formula, clothing, undergarments, personal hygiene kits, and blankets. All items must be new. Drop off items at 642 3rd Ave, Chula Vista, 91910 between 9 am and 3:30 pm, Monday through Friday.

Horizon Christian Fellowship (858-277-4991)

Receiving in-kind donations only at 8888 Balboa Ave, San Diego 92123. The drop-off is on the east side of the building. Someone will be on duty to receive donations between 8 am – 5 pm, Monday through Friday. A receipt for items dropped off will be provided if requested. Items being accepted include: new toiletry items, nonperishable food, bottled water, new camping gear, new or newer clothing, and new school supplies. Volunteers are needed to receive, sort, pack, and distribute supplies. Interested persons can call 858-277-4991 and leave name, phone number, and email address

San Diego Food Bank (866-350-3663)

Accepting nonperishable food for Hurricane Katrina victims as well as for its regular clientele. Persons dropping off food need to specify that the food is for Hurricane Katrina victims, otherwise the food will go to regular clientele. Any amount of food is accepted, and the Food Bank has the ability to pick up large amounts of food (collected by a food drive, for example). Food should be dropped off at 9850 Distribution Ave, San Diego 92121, Monday through Friday, 9 am – 12 pm and 1 pm – 4 pm.

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