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Houston Advocates Release Action Plan To Improve How Immigrants Survive Disasters

Recommendations include providing better explanations on how to apply for FEMA assistance and making disaster preparedness information more accessible.

A member of the Living Hope Wheelchair Association visits immigrants recovering from Harvey.

Advocates rolled out an action plan Friday to make disaster response in Houston more inclusive of immigrants.

The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, and other community partners, released the action plan. 

The plan included 34 recommendations, which were put together after studying the experiences of service providers at 40 immigrant-serving organizations. They found many immigrants faced additional barriers during and after Harvey. 

Recommendations include providing better explanations on how to apply for FEMA assistance and making disaster preparedness information more accessible.

“There’s not just the right languages and the right channels but even the right levels of literacy,” said Katy Atkiss, who developed the action plan. 

She also said some aspects of the action plan apply directly to the emergency response to the ITC tank fire. 

“Making sure that people know what to do, like what does ‘shelter in place’ mean,” she said. “If they even hear these words, how do they respond, what are their action items?”

Atkiss will be meeting with local officials and organizations to see how the plan could be implemented.

Kate Vickery of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative announces the Humanitarian Action Plan for immigrant resilience.

In a written statement, County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said the industrial fires this week are a reminder to invest in the resilience of low-income and immigrant communities. 

“Immigrant resilience is key to the resilience of our country as a whole. For these reasons, I’m proud to support these recommendations,” said Ellis, who represents Precinct One.

report by the Episcopal Health Foundation and the Kaiser Family Foundation found undocumented immigrants as more likely to say their lives were disrupted by Harvey than native-born residents.

Other recommendations in the action plan include suspending immigration enforcement within 200 miles of disaster zones during a crisis, developing more data to better understand how immigrant communities are impacted by disaster and coordinating with immigrant advocates on getting out information to communities. 

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