By Schondra Aytch
The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey has left much of Houston, the U.S’s 4th largest city underwater. With over 27 million gallons of water dumped over Texas and Louisiana, the damage done as a tropical storm seems costly. As survivors found shelter and began to regroup, the storm left a significant difficulty to these American refugees. Those particularly escaping from low-income, flood prone neighborhoods are forced to leave behind their homes and confront the anxious situation of rebuilding.
Annie Smith, a Houston refugee that went into labor during the storm. Fortunately, she was pulled out of her home along with her husband and carried down a human chain of neighbors and firefighters to a truck after trying to contact the Texas National Guard for hours. While religious institutions, non-profit organizations and resettlement services are in full effect, rescuing and providing shelter, there is still tension. As local and federal governments prepare for tackling relief efforts, the process also creates political and financial pressure. With over 80 percent of Texans without flood insurance and 70 percent of home damage not insured, the future looks costly.
In recent years, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been criticized on both their National Flood Insurance Program and Temporary Housing Mission. Many affected by both Hurricane Sandy and Katrina have called out the agency for their high premiums for NFIP and their unenthusiastic commitment to providing temporary housing. Similar to FEMA, the Red Cross has been under fire as well. Many accuse the organization for lack of effort in Hurricane Katrina and their use of donation money to pay administrative costs during Haiti’s earthquake in 2010. Still, FEMA has played its part in assisting more than 300,000 displaced American refugees.
Red Cross has also been a major contributor in Hurricane Harvey’s reliefefforts by collaborating with faith institutions like Mosques and Churches as shelters to better cater to evacuees. Yet, there is more to be done. Nema Bora Balibonera, a Houston refugee that fled from the Congo only seven months ago, understands the feeling of being lost. Rescued by a local non-profit, The Alliance, she was taken to NRG stadium for shelter. Houston is home to the largest Afghan refugee population in the United States as well as an even larger community of Latin Americans; many of which are undocumented and makes up 22 percent of the city’s 6.3 million residents. With immigrants as the fastest growing and most vulnerable residents, there is a legitimate concern about their accessibility to services like housing-recovery, financial assistance and healthcare.
Jorge, an employee of a local Houston catering service, found shelter for his wife and three children after their home flooded. Refusing to give his last name, people like him are resorting to leaving everything to survive.
“This is where we are right now, at the mercy of the elements,” he said. Houston’s mayor, Democrat Sylvester Turner, also made it clear that officials like local Police or Border Patrol will not ask for immigration status or papers when providing sanctuary.“I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what your status is. I do not want you to run the risk of losing your life or [that of] a family member because you’re concerned about (Senate Bill) 4 or anything else,” Turner said. There is much to prove considering that Texas Senate Bill 4 or the Immigration Enforcement Bill would make it legal for residents to be questioned by authorities on immigration status. Interestingly enough, Hurricane Harvey has come at a time when both the NFIP, which is currently over 20 billion in debt, is now up for reauthorization, while theImmigration Enforcement Bill will be in the wake of taking effect. To help or assist American refugees affected by Hurricane Harvey click the links below.