Art Reyes III is Director of Training and Leadership Development at Center for Popular Democracy. He along with the Genesee County Hispanic Latino Collaborative and a powerful group of organizers from around the country are working in Flint to be sure undocumented immigrants in Flint are getting the help they need in the midst of the water crisis there. The need is real. Many undocumented people are not getting the information they need and still more are too afraid of being detained to go to water distribution sites. It’s a legitimate fear as the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is reported to detaining people in grocery stores and other areas around Flint:
Juani Olivares, says there are roughly a thousand undocumented immigrants in Flint – and many have spent years hiding from authorities to avoid deportation.
“Water was being delivered,” she says, “and they (immigrants) were not opening the door. Because that is the one rule. Do not open the door.”
Let’s face it, undocumented immigrants aren’t paranoid: The government really does want to get them.
Juani Oliveras works with the Genesee County Hispanic/Latino Collaborative. She says rumors are flying about sporadic raids at grocery stores.
“That’s another reason why people are not getting the water,” she says.
What’s worse is that many of these folks are still boiling water before drinking it because that’s what they have been told to do in the past when e. coli contaminated the city’s drinking water. In the case of lead contamination, however, it’s exactly the WRONG thing to do because it concentrates the lead even further.
This past Wednesday, Reyes and other organizers held a training for lead canvassers in Flint, setting the stage for what they hope will become regular daily canvasses until the water issue is resolved.
Art Reyes speaks during the lead canvasser training
I spoke with Reyes after the organizing meeting to get a better understanding of what they are hoping to accomplish. He told me that there is currently no infrastructure in place to do what needs to be done in the undocumented community so they are literally building it as they go. He told me that there are an estimated 1,000 undocumented people in Flint. The goals of his group are fourfold:
First, they want to educate people about the water situation to ensure they know what precautions to take and what things to avoid (like boiling the water.)
Second, they want to make sure people are getting the water, water filters, and other necessary items that they need to stay healthy. The state has already been neglected this marginalized population and the poisoning of Flint’s drinking water is making things much, much worse.
Organizers from over a dozen organizations and from as far away as Los Angeles and Texas collaborate to begin an extraordinary outreach effort in Flint.
Third, they are collecting stories from people. Unless the stories of those who are impacted are lifted up and heard, there will be nothing to stop this from happening again.
Fourth, they are trying to create a database of undocumented immigrants so that they can continue to work with them as needed until the crisis is over. This one is very difficult. The idea of getting into any database is, of course, the greatest fear of people here without documentation.
Finally, they are working to build a database of partners and volunteers who can help them with their effort.
How can you help? There are several ways. First, you can donate money. The Genesee County Hispanic Latino Collaborative has set up a fundraising page HERE.
Second, you can volunteer your time and resources to the effort. This will be an ongoing project and they will need assistance for the foreseeable future. Spanish-speaking volunteers are in particularly high demand. They also need things like storage and organizing spaces, trainers, printing, and all of the things that go along with a long-term effort like this. Click HERE to volunteer.
Third, you can donate water:
— Juan Escalante (@JuanSaaa) January 25, 2016
— Juan Escalante (@JuanSaaa) January 25, 2016
Finally, educate yourself about the issue. A good starting point is this essay by Art Reyes titled, “I Grew Up in Flint. Here’s Why Governor Snyder Must Resign. “.
One of the groups assisting with this effort is a small non-governmental agency (NGO) called Crossing Water. The group is headed up by social worker Michael Hood who has brought together around 150 social workers from around the country along with several hundred other volunteers and donors. They have already put up several billboards around Flint in both English and Spanish letting people know not to boil the water. They have plans for more billboards, including trailer mounted billboards that they can drive around Flint. They are also using donations to pay for public service announcements on television and radio. They’ve created videos on how to properly install and use water filters and teaching new parents not to use tap water to mix with baby formula. They have recruited plumbers to help replace lead-containing plumbing. This single group is making a huge difference.
Please do what you can to help with this important outreach effort. There are literally lives on the line, including the lives of babies and children.