MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
So tens of billions of dollars will be spent to help those whose lives were appended by Sandy. Well, we're going to hear now about one group that will have to start over without that help: undocumented immigrants. NPR's Reema Khrais has that story.
REEMA KHRAIS, BYLINE: When I met Rosa Maria Ramirez in Staten Island, she was lugging large black bags from her home to the sidewalk. She's a petite woman.
ROSA MARIA RAMIREZ: This one's heavy. These ones are garbage.
KHRAIS: Just bags of garbage.
RAMIREZ: Yes. My CDs, cassettes, frames.
KHRAIS: Furniture, clothes, television, it's all ruined after Sandy slammed her place. She's moving out. Ramirez, who's an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, cleans houses. Her son, who lives with her, works in a bakery close by. I asked her if she's been to any relief centers or food distribution sites, and she shakes her head. She hasn't heard of any.
And have you tried applying to FEMA?
WOMAN: No. FEMA say no because we are illegal.
KHRAIS: If you're undocumented, you don't qualify for federal financial assistance. The exception is if one person in the household has a Social Security number, like in the case for Prisma's family in Coney Island. Prisma is 16. When I met her, she was picking up a big brown dresser with her parents. It's the family's newest and only piece of furniture since Sandy destroyed most of their things. She watched as her dad tried to stuff it into the car.
PRISMA: Trying to get the furniture into the truck, but it doesn't fit. Now, we don't want to get pulled over.
KHRAIS: Prisma's parents, who asked us not to reveal their last name because they're undocumented, moved to New York from Mexico 20 years ago. Since the storm washed their apartment, they've been camped out at the home of their friend Lauren Burke, who's an immigration lawyer.
PRISMA: So we're looking for an apartment for them, and then I realized that we also needed, like, furniture.
PRISMA: And because they're all in my room, so we need, like, things to put...
KHRAIS: You mean all five of them are staying in your room?
PRISMA: Yeah, and I'm in the living room.
KHRAIS: After the storm hit, the family spent every night searching for an affordable apartment. Prisma said it's not just the price tag that makes it tough. It's their undocumented status.
PRISMA: So that's why it was often hard for us to get apartment because most of them ask for, like, your credit report or, like, your bank account number.
KHRAIS: But all the apartment hunting has paid off. I spoke with Prisma yesterday and she told me they found a new place in their old building. Now, the real hurdle is for Prisma's dad to find a new job. He lost his hair weaving business in the storm. And because of his status, he doesn't qualify for unemployment disaster assistance or food stamps. Their friend Lauren Burke heads Atlas: DIY, an organization that works with immigrant youth.
LAUREN BURKE: You know, undocumented families are much less likely to have insurance. They're much less likely to own their homes, and they're much less likely to have any of the support systems that we think about having in place for a natural disaster.
KHRAIS: But Prisma's family is lucky. They have the cushion of a tight-knit community with access to bilingual resources and organizations. Many immigrants hit by Sandy, even those who are documented, don't have communities to rely on.
ABDO ELLAHABI: The water start coming out here from the door.
KHRAIS: Forty-two-year-old Abdo Ellahabi is one of them.
ELLAHABI: I lose all the stuff in the store.
KHRAIS: When I walked into his drug store in Far Rockaway, he told me he lost more than $100,000 after Sandy destroyed almost all of the merchandise.
ELLAHABI: Only what you have in the high shelf, that's safe. Otherwise finished. All the refrigerators, finished. All the stuff, finished.
KHRAIS: Ellahabi is 42. He's from Yemen and lives alone. His wife and three kids are abroad. You could count on one hand that day the customers who trailed into his store. Power was out. There was a slight stench of expired milk. But Ellahabi stood stiffly behind the counter, hands clasped together, waiting for business. He only stepped away to give me a tour.
And you have a crate of cans right here and the sign says, buy one...
ELLAHABI: Buy one, get one free, and nobody want to buy it.
KHRAIS: Do you think it's going to take a few weeks for things to get back together? How long do you think it will take?
ELLAHABI: No, it will take like not less than two months to fix the floor, fix the walls.
KHRAIS: He also has to knock down a row of brand-new refrigerators he installed just three months ago. Even though he applied for a small business loan, he worries it won't be enough. After all, this store is the third one he's built since moving to America. The other two failed. Reema Khrais, NPR News.