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63 Groups to Homeland Security, Health Departments: Protect Flint's Immigrant Community

First Posted: Feb 29, 2016 04:50 PM EST
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Dozens of civil rights and immigrant rights groups have called on the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Homeland Security (DHS) to provide protections for immigrants living in Flint, Michigan.

Fear of Deportation Still Alive in Flint

Immigrant families, with members lacking identification, have reportedly refrained from collecting free clean water due to fear government officials will detain the individual over their immigration status.

In a letter signed by 63 organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Detention Watch Network, National Immigration Forum, National Immigrant Justice Center, New York Immigration Coalition and United We Dream, the groups commended DHS for not conducting enforcement operations at or near locations where clean water distribution occurs but more must be done to ensure the health and safety of Flint's immigrants.

The 63 groups have asked DHS and HHS to:

- Grant immigration relief to immigrants whose families were poisoned during the water crisis,

- Provide assurance that any records related to the water crisis (such as public health records or infrastructure surveys) will not be used for immigration enforcement purposes,

- Immediately and publicly suspend all immigration enforcement activities in Flint until the public health crisis has been comprehensively addressed.

"Ensuring that all children in Flint have access to clean water and health services must be the priority of local, state, and federal governments," said Wendy Cervantes, vice president of Immigration and Child Rights for First Focus, a children's advocacy organization among the 63 groups supporting the letter. "Children of immigrants represent a segment of the city's most vulnerable population, and as Americans, we must stand up for the rights and safety of children. While DHS has agreed to suspend enforcement around water distribution centers, more must be done to ensure that these children and their families are not afraid to access emergency and other health services now and in the future."

No Immigration Crackdown

As Latin Post reported, also cited in the 63 organization's letter, Homeland Security announced its immigration-related agencies (Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP)) will not pose as individuals providing water-related information or distributing clean water at or near Flint.

"Amongst the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's top priorities in the current water emergency in Flint is to support State and local government efforts to distribute clean water and related supplies to individuals in communities who are impacted by the emergency. During the emergency, DHS and its component law enforcement agencies are focused on life-saving and life-sustaining activities and maintaining public order. We stand ready to assist those in need and to support State and local authorities quickly, safely, and efficiently," DHS said in a statement on Feb. 24.

The city of Flint has been dealing with a water crisis as a result of corroded lead pipes. The problem started in April 2014 when Michigan's emergency manager decided to swap Flint's water source to the Flint River. The swap was meant to save costs but toxic water began to affect Flint's water pipes.

ACLU - Flint Immigration Letter

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