The whole country tuned in to watch when Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in Flint, Michigan on Jan. 5.
As many as 8,000 children were exposed to high levels of lead in the city’s water. The issue of clean water had been prevalent in the state for over a year before this problem arose. Community members were already protesting, and it was clear that state officials were already aware of the issue before taking action on it.
It is not uncommon regarding issues such as poor conditions and violations that minorities receive less assistance. It is also common for there to be a concentration of lead poisoning in minority families in Baltimore, such as Freddie Gray’s, according to the Baltimore Sun.
The Washington Post reported in April 2015 that 14 neighborhoods in Baltimore have a lower life expectancy than in North Korea.
The plight of undocumented immigrants is also present in Flint, as stated by numerous media sources like Fusion and PRI.
The city has a rough estimate of 1,000 undocumented residents; and, due to their citizenship status, the majority of them have been hesitant to go to the water distribution centers because it requires a form of identification.
After conducting interviews, publications such as Fusion have stated many people weren’t aware of the lead poisoning—the reasons being that they don’t speak English or they weren’t informed about it until a few days after the city declared a state of emergency.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted deportation raids at the beginning of this year causing immigrants to close the door on police officers delivering water bottles.
Fortunately, a few churches from around the area have approached undocumented families because the majority of them feel safer in places of worship, according to PRI.org.
However, many are still drinking and bathing in the lead-poisoned water.
Gov. Rick Snyder released a press release on Jan. 22 that stated an ID was not required to receive clean water. But, through interviews gathered by the media, centers are still asking for identification.
The exposure to the contaminated water is clearly affecting the population. Skin issues and other health problems have risen, but as Juani Olivares, chair of the Genesee County Hispanic/Latino Collaborative, comments in Fusion, “They were like, ‘What do we do? Why don’t we get any information? If we have issues, who is going to treat my child? Or what about myself, if I don’t have insurance?’ There’s a lot of questions we can’t answer.”
Undocumented immigrants do not have access to health care. If there is an emergency situation, they have to pay the full amount, resulting in massive debt.
In order to access lead testing in clinics, identification is also required.
This confusing and overwhelming narrative has been ongoing for decades, such as after the events of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina when undocumented people were left uninformed, uncared for and taken advantage of.
As the discovery of Flint’s contaminated water dominated the news, articles surfaced highlighting the struggles that indigenous communities in the U.S. have had with the government to have clean water.
Clean Up the Mines!, a campaign that aims to clean all uranium mines across the U.S., describes the horrific conditions of the water in the land of the Navajo.
Seventy-five percent of abandoned uranium mines are on federal and Tribal lands, quoted from a factsheet produced by Charmaine White Face, elder of the Oglala Lakota Sioux, for the Clean up the Mines! campaign.
Movements such as Protect Oak Flat and protests against the Keystone XL pipeline have brought more attention and awareness in the media. However, the curiosity most often disappears after a short while, leaving the issues at hand pushed to the sidelines.
The crisis of contaminated water showcases how profound corruption is rooted in our society. The systematic oppression suffocates minorities and annihilates basic human needs.
These instances continue to present the dreadful realities of marginalized communities. From those who have made the U.S. their new home to those whose ancestral lands were robbed from them, no one should be denied the right to clean water.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Keoni Cabral’s Flickr account.
Raye Weigel is a sophomore multiplatform journalism and English major and may be reached at email@example.com.
Karla Casique is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.