Hurricane Florence was considered one of the wettest hurricanes in history (Maxouris and Jones, 2018). Storm surge was the biggest threat, where the water reached up to 13 feet in some areas (Samenow, 2018). Due to this massive flooding, city officials supported buildings for shelter in which people could be safe from the walls of water. These spaces, however, were not all-inclusive. North Carolina farmers bring in thousands of laborers every year who are primarily Mexicans on annual visas (Ramchandani, 2018). Interviews completed by the National Public Radio’s Global Health and Development Correspondent, Jason Beaubien, highlighted the narratives of migrant workers who were silenced by Hurricane Florence. Migrant workers struggled to find shelter and some were too scared to ask for help. Beaubien discovered that “the Department of Homeland Security deployed Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to help with the relief efforts. When photos of the officers in uniform and their trucks started to spread on social media, people were afraid they were carrying out immigration raids” (Beaubien, 2018). Even legal migrants were worried about going to designated shelters because “they’ve heard proclamations that using government services could jeopardize their immigration status” (Beaubien, 2018).
An estimated 150,000 farmworkers are sourced to North Carolina to pick the cash crops every year. Most of them are immigrants or migrant laborers, with half being undocumented (Ramchandani, 2018). Come Hurricane Florence, their uncertain future as farm workers became their only certainty. When it came time to evacuate the area, many of them had no options besides the government sponsored safe houses (Hodgin, 2018). Many didn’t go, due to the stress caused by the ICE agents in place. In this way both documented and undocumented workers were failed by the government to protect them from the “natural” disaster.
Who is to blame for their situation? It’s true that Hurricane Florence was a natural disaster. Meteorologists can track hurricanes as soon as they start to develop. Through impressive remote sensing technology they are able to predict the intensity and direction of the storms. As warm, moist air rises and cools, water forms clouds that spin and grow, absorbing energy from the heat of the ocean’s rapidly evaporating surface (Erickson, 2018). This is a very natural process. But the disastrous effects that it caused in North Carolina was not natural at all; the situation was in fact denaturalized. The destruction was immense because of the socio-natures humans created, as exemplified by the removal of natural wetlands. City planners developed on marshland ecosystems that could have helped alleviate the flooding (“Wetlands”, n.d.). The people living in North Carolina were subjected to so much damage because of a mixture of climate change exasperating the hurricane and city developers within the local government. The migrant workers reacted to the conditions that their social environment created. Baer and Singer (2009) described it best when they concluded that “the interaction of sociocultural systems and the physical environment… is a critical process in the determination of health” (p. 72). Health, in this case, is the mental health of the migrant workers in North Carolina. Their mental health was under attack when ICE agents were positioned as aid, but interpreted as danger.
In the industrial agriculture sphere, capitalistic values outweigh all considerations of environmental and ethical change. We know that the farms operate for profit by exploiting the land. Migrant workers also work for profit, but in addition to exploiting the land they are exploiting their bodies in the process. Many feel that they do not have a choice besides work. They must endure these hardships in order to provide for their families back home. In this way, many blame the migrant workers for not seeking out help themselves and putting themselves in this situation. Their injuries and health risks were individualized, where people blamed the migrant workers for their injuries because they didn’t seek help. The migrant workers didn’t ask for help in fear of deportation or losing their status as a citizen, no matter how much they required it. In the wake of a natural disaster, no group of people should be subjected to additional fear, especially if enacted by another group of people. Earlier this year President Trump took $10 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s budget to help boost ICE projects (Hayes, 2018). Homeland security commented that they were just there to help, and say that the rumors of immigration checkpoints at the hurricane shelters were false (King, 2018). The uniforms of the agents alone were a symbol for danger to those who were not secure with their citizenship. This needs to change.
ICE agents instilled more fear than security to the migrant workers seeking shelter after the hurricane. We should not allow these agents to help “rescue” people, even if their intentions are just to help. There needs to be a separation between immigrant law enforcement and rescue teams. With climate change rapidly changing the intensity of hurricanes and storms alike, we must be better prepared to protect all groups of our society. ICE agents were deployed due to a shortage of able bodies available to assist everyone. To prevent this, more money should be allocated to the Natural Disaster Response and Recovery branch of the U.S. Department of the Interior that establishes Recovery Support Functions (RSFs) after natural disasters. The purpose of RSFs are to pull in “resources for recovery support by facilitating problem solving, improving access to resources, and fostering coordination among Local, State, Tribal Territorial, and other stakeholders” (“NDRR”, n.d.). If more money is allocated to this branch, the needs of every stakeholder group will be heard, including migrant workers’. With more money flowing into productive and inclusive solutions to natural disasters rather than paying uniformed ICE agents to threaten the mental security of migrant workers, it would reduce stress and allow more safety provisions. In addition to this, by respecting the different situations of all affected by hurricanes it could potentially save more individuals and help develop better response plans for future natural disasters.
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MIGRANT WORKER RESPONSE TO ICE AGENTS POST HURRICANE FLORENCE 7
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