Amidst Flint’s Contaminated Water Crisis, Undocumented Immigrants Are Too Afraid to Ask for Help

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The city of Flint is in the midst of a water emergency. After shutting off Detroit’s water supply and replacing it with water from the Flint River to save money in April 25, 2014, high levels of lead were found in the water, according to The New York Times. It took Flint more than a year to declare a state of emergency, and now that the city is eligible for as much as $5 million in aid, there’s one group who is not getting the help they need: undocumented immigrants.

ABC 12 reports that as many as 1,000 undocumented immigrants are afraid to head to water distribution centers because they don’t want to be deported. The crisis is happening at a time when many undocumented immigrants are terrified of the ongoing ICE raids. Just before Christmas 2015, it was revealed that the Obama administration would deport hundreds of children and women who had been ordered to be removed by an immigration judge.

“I’m not here legally. And I’m always scared that they’ll arrest me, and then deport me,” said a women who was only identified as Lucia. And now that she knows what it takes to get water at a distribution center, she’s not likely to go back. “I got close to see what they were giving out, and it was water. And the first thing they asked me for was my license.” Only 10 states and Washington D.C. offer licenses to undocumented immigrants, and Michigan is not among them, Pew Trusts reports.

Lucia, who has been living in Flint for more than 10 years, learned that Flint’s water supply contained lead four months ago when her son told her, so she started buying bottled water to drink. But ABC 12 says that some undocumented immigrants – Spanish speakers who haven’t been able to follow the news – only learned the water was contaminated a few weeks ago.

There are local groups who are going to undocumented immigrants to try to offer their help, but people are still afraid. So they avoid opening the door to people who have tried to deliver clean water to them.