The recent raids by immigration agents could be keeping undocumented immigrants in Flint, Michigan from opening their doors to government workers who have been going from home to home to give out bottled water and distribute crucial information, says an immigration attorney who has met with advocates knowledgeable about the situation.
“We were all very worried that the uniformed people going door-to-door in Flint to distribute water and water filters, could very well be turned away by scared undocumented people, believing it was a raid,” Susan Reed, the managing attorney with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, or MIRC, told Fox News Latino told Fox News Latino.
A series of immigration raids on Jan. 2 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, targeted Central Americans who had outstanding deportation orders. Though only 121 mothers and children were targeted in the raids, it caused widespread panic in Latino communities for weeks afterward. Immigration advocacy groups advised people without legal documents not to open their doors to prevent agents from entering their property.
Those raids – coincidentally, and to the misfortune of Flint's immigrant community – coincided with the time that uniformed officers were trying to go door-to-door to try and make everyone in the city become aware of the dangers of Flint's tap water.
FNL spoke to Reed after she had just left meetings in Detroit with Arab-American and Latino advocates, who told her that up until a few days ago, many undocumented immigrants in Flint – including many families with babies – were still unaware of the dangers in the water. Flint residents are currently unable to drink unfiltered tap water. Tests have shown high lead levels in some children's blood.
“Some people, who thought they knew what was going on, were boiling the water, as they believed that was enough. But of course that can’t get rid of lead in the water,” Reed said.
Activists are also concerned about the type of access to health care these undocumented immigrants exposed to the toxic water are getting.
At the same time, officials at some Flint fire stations, where the National Guard is distributing free bottled water and filters, were asking residents for a form of identification to receive the water or filters. Immigrants in Michigan without legal status are unable to receive drivers’ licenses or state IDs.
The ID requirement ended on Friday.
One woman told local television station WJRT that she was too afraid to go to the water distribution centers dotting the city after a worker at one of them asked her for a driver’s license.
“I’m not here legally," she explained. "And I’m always scared that they'll arrest me, and then deport me."
Reed told FNL that the state has said they recently started translating into Spanish documents about the dangers of the water in Flint, but there’s still no word on when those documents will be disseminated to residents.
On Wednesday, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a complaint on behalf of citizens along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the Concerned Pastors for Social Action and Melissa Mays, a Flint resident. The lawsuit seeks an order forcing city and state officials to remedy alleged violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, including a failure to properly treat the water for corrosion, test it for lead, notify residents of results and accurately report if the correct sample sites are being selected.
Reed said she's concerned whether the immigrants who have been exposed to the toxic water are getting proper access to health care.
“In the long-term, we’re bothered about how undocumented immigrants will access primary healthcare. What’s their monitoring going to be like? What about their related health issues,” Reed says. “I hope there’s a plan going forward.”
Reed says she wonders what will happen if the parents of these children, who’ve been exposed to the water, are deported. Can their countries of origin, she asked, handle the health issues of these U.S. born victims?
It remains unclear when residents will be able to resume drinking unfiltered water.
State Department of Environmental Quality Interim Director Keith Creagh said water samples show "things are trending better," but he stressed they are not statistically valid because he cannot guarantee homeowner-provided samples are from homes at more risk — those with lead pipes or with no filters.
Meanwhile, churches in Flint have been stepping in to help the immigrant community afraid of going elsewhere for help.
“We are getting requests from people for water and water filters," Father Zachary Mabee of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Flint told Fox News Latino last week. "We’re making it known that the church has water and filters, and we want people who’re undocumented to know if they’re scared, they can come here.”
The Associated Press contributed to the story.