Wildfires Bring Undocumented Workers Added Anxiety

California Wildfires

hide captionA back fire burns near Live Oak Canyon Road, where homes are threatened by the Santiago fire, in Irvine, California.

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Univision radio personality Eddie Sotelo, also known as El Piolin, is delivering supplies to victims of the wildfires in San Diego. Sotelo explains the dual fear among undocumented migrant workers of both being harmed by the fire and being arrested.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

On today's program, President Bush gave his first major address on Cuba in four years. We'll talk with U.S. Senator Mel Martinez, a first-generation Cuban American, for his reaction. We'll also have the story of how one American Hindu woman balances tradition and feminism. Also, a new comic book series is rooted in Islamic values, and it's not just for Muslims.

But first, we want to talk about the wildfires in California. President Bush is traveling there to assess the damage, and six large fires are still burning in the San Diego area. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. Property damage in San Diego County alone totals more than a billion dollars, including at least fifteen hundred homes that have burned to the ground.

But we wanted to know how some of the people who live outside mainstream communication networks might be faring in all of this - people who don't speak English or who are undocumented or who live in rural areas.

First, we're going to talk with Eddie Sotelo, better known as El Piolin. He hosts Univision's "Piolin por La Manana," or "Piolin in the Morning," which broadcasts from Los Angeles and to some 50 stations. He joins us on the phone.

Hi, Eddie.

Mr. EDDIE SOTELO (Host, "Piolin por La Manana"): Hello, Michel. How are you doing?

MARTIN: I'm okay. Now, you made the trip to some hard-hit areas around San Diego last night to deliver supplies to the shelters. What did you find when you got there?

Mr. SOTELO: A lot of people there was really sad because there are so many people that lost their house, and so many kids just asking me, Piolin, do you think - are you going to (unintelligible), you know, give us a house. A kid of 8 years old was, you know, really sad because he was missing friends, neighbors. And he said that he used to play after school with them. And right now, he was sleeping on the floor, you know, in the stadium of San Diego.

MARTIN: What are you hearing about people who are undocumented and who are affected by the fires in these areas? Are they afraid to go forward, or are they getting access to the services that other people are getting? Do you hear about whether there's any fear about coming forward, or going to shelter out of concern about his status?

Mr. SOTELO: Yes, they're afraid, you know, because they know that they are undocumented in this country. They're afraid to go and ask, you know, and try to get service or (unintelligible) help us. But the government, I saw some people that were afraid. But at the same time, I saw a lot of people from the government saying, you know what? we're not here to ask you, you know, if you have papers or not. We're just here to help you. But, yeah, they are really afraid, the people, that they don't have documentation.

MARTIN: Eddie Sotelo, also known as El Piolin, hosts the Univision radio show, "Piolin por La Manana."

Eddie, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. SOTELO: Thank you, Michel.

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