Allowing families of any background, including undocumented immigrants, to drink poisoned water is unconscionable. But immigrants have often been overlooked in the Flint water crisis, and to this day many are afraid to get help.
Three months after the governor declared a state of emergency, undocumented immigrants were still drinking tap water. Parents were saddened to learn that they missed information regarding the dangers of Flint tap water due to limited translated materials. Many didn’t know lead was a toxic contaminant or thought that boiling would purify their water. Boiling actually concentrates lead.
Other problems arose for immigrants once they did find out about the lead crisis and sought assistance. A few bottled water stations were initially asking undocumented residents for ID before handing out water, deterring residents from accessing water and raising fears of deportation. It was not until community members organized to draw attention to this abominable situation that the state announced no IDs were required to receive water.
Today, while immigrants have received assurances that they will not be under threat of deportation for seeking clean water, many remain afraid. Flint residents at large lost their trust in the state government over the course of the past year as they received information now proven false about the purity of their tap water and the state’s measures to treat the Flint River water.
For undocumented immigrants who live in fear of deportation, reports of community members being asked for identification along with water being distributed by officers in uniform raised alarms and heightened fears of detainment and deportation. For now, these families must trust community groups and grassroots organizations that have worked diligently to inform them of their rights and provide them with correct information. For the immigrants left too long in the dark and who allowed their young children to drink the seemingly innocuous tap water, this is all too little too late.
This crisis illustrates why it is so important to provide basic services including healthcare to immigrants regardless of immigration status. While most families now have access to clean water, they still have limited access to healthcare due to lack of health insurance and cultural barriers in accessing the small number of community clinics that may take those without insurance. The Affordable Care Act did not extend insurance coverage to undocumented immigrants.
Without health insurance or identification, many immigrant families are not even able to have their kids tested for lead, let alone receive medical services. Among the many things the state must take responsibility for, it is imperative that every single child and family in Flint that was devastated by this manmade disaster, regardless of immigration status, is cared for and provided with immediate assistance and long-term health care.