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FEMA aid limited for undocumented immigrants

I read a Mail Tribune article that said FEMA assistance is not available to undocumented immigrants. Earlier I heard a television interview with a leader at FEMA who was asked whether FEMA assistance is available for undocumented immigrants, and he said FEMA “is in the business of helping people. People are people.” Would you please clarify whether FEMA helps undocumented immigrants?

— Wendy

A person must be a U.S. citizen, noncitizen national or a qualified alien in order to receive aid from Federal Emergency Management Agency cash assistance programs, such as the Individuals and Households Program and Disaster Unemployment Assistance, according to FEMA guidelines available online.

A household could get aid if at least one member of the household, including a child, fits into one of those categories.

To qualify based on a child’s legal immigration status, the child must have been younger than 18 as of the first day of the disaster, which was Sept. 8 for the Almeda fire.

Qualified aliens include anyone with legal permanent residence (“green card” holders), refugee or asylum status, withholding of deportation status, conditional entry, parole into the United States for at least one year for humanitarian purposes, Cuban-Haitian Entrant status or a pending or approved petition for relief based on battery or extreme cruelty by a family member.

Many local children and young adults are participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Known as “Dreamers,” they were brought into the country illegally as children. They are shielded from deportation by the Obama-era DACA program, although the Trump administration has tried to end the program.

Although they have shaky protection from deportation, Dreamers are not in the category of people eligible for FEMA cash aid individually and don’t count toward helping the household they’re in get aid, according to FEMA rules.

Foreign students, undocumented immigrant temporary or seasonal agricultural workers, temporary tourism visa holders, temporary work visa holders and holders of temporary resident cards also aren’t eligible for cash aid from FEMA.

Some types of noncash FEMA help are available for everyone regardless of immigration status, including emergency disaster help such as sheltering, disaster legal services, crisis counseling and disaster food stamps.

Anyone with questions about their right to apply for aid can call FEMA at 1-800-621-3362. FEMA representatives can also refer people to services provided by other organizations that don’t consider immigration status.

In Jackson County, local governments have set up Multi Agency Resource Centers that operate from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Central High School, 815 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford; Talent Elementary School, 307 Wagner Creek Road; and the Phoenix Civic Center, 220 N. Main St.

Those centers have FEMA representatives and a wealth of information about local groups that are offering a wide array of help for everyone impacted by local fires, regardless of immigration status.

Spanish interpretation is available at the centers.

The Unete center in Medford is among the local nonprofit organizations helping farmworkers and immigrants in the community. The center is helping families navigate community resources. It started a farmworker and immigrant family relief fund to help families pay for food, gas and other needs.

For more information or to donate, see uneteoregon.org.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.