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In Flooded Colorado, Immigrants' Livelihoods Washed Away
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In Flooded Colorado, Immigrants' Livelihoods Washed Away

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And let's return now to Colorado. That state was hit recently by some of the worst flooding in living memory. Much of the focus during the huge recovery effort has been on repairing and rebuilding roads and bridges to mountain towns cut off by the floods last month.

NPR's Kirk Siegler spent time farther east, in the state's rolling plains, where some of the challenges victims face are different.



KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Three women are sitting on a couch in the lobby of a shabby hotel about an hour northeast of Denver. One of them has been staying here since the flood waters wiped out the mobile home park where they all lived in the nearby town of Evans. One month on, they're confused and sad.

CLAUDIA: (Spanish spoken)

SIEGLER: Claudia, who doesn't want to use her last name due to her immigration status, does most of the talking.

CLAUDIA: (Spanish spoken)

SIEGLER: Where can we go, she says? We lost everything in the floods - all of our clothes, everything from our 10 years living here. Claudia's husband is trying to keep his construction job. They've been staying with friends, but have to leave soon. The family's been told they quality for FEMA assistance. Her youngest daughter was born in the U.S. and is a citizen.

CLAUDIA: (Spanish spoken)

SIEGLER: FEMA is still processing our application, she says, but we don't know if it's been approved. And the local county hasn't returned her calls for help finding an apartment. The rental market here was already tight due to an oil boom. Her friend Jasmil chimes in. She says landlords are preying on them.

JASMIL: (Spanish spoken)

SIEGLER: Did you get FEMA money, these landlords ask? What is your immigration status? And then they jack up the rent, she says. These are common stories being told right now across this flooded region. It's a place where thousands of immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador flock to jobs in the fields and the dairies and meatpacking industry.

SONIA MARQUEZ: Many of these families that were displaced and taken out of their homes and currently are homeless are, you know, the workforce of northern Colorado.

SIEGLER: Sonia Marquez of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition says hundreds of immigrant families lost their homes. A few don't have anyone in their families who are citizens and eligible for aid. Many are turning to private charities like hers and churches. But money is tight. Almost everywhere you look around hard-hit towns like Evans, there's a lot of need.

In one neighborhood along the Platte River, half of the road is still gone. Mud and trash is strewn everywhere. There' a van with an elderly couple in it. They've been living in it for a month. Two-thirds of Evans' wastewater treatment system is still broken down.

MAYOR LYLE ACHZIGER: See the water line in there?

SIEGLER: At one of the decimated mobile home parks, the mayor of Evans, Lyle Achziger, points out what's left of a girl's English as a Second Language certificate. A layer of raw sewage and mud and chemicals covers what used to be the family's living room.

ACHZIGER: Who knows what was in that water. It was all coming across here, you know, eight, nine feet high in here.

SIEGLER: While the floods hit this city of 19,000 hard, Achziger says the town's immigrant community, who inhabits most of its east side, took the brunt of the storms. Evans is about 45 percent Latino. Achziger, a conservative Republican, says their immigration status has not been an issue during the recovery.

ACHZIGER: That's not our focus. We had people that were living in here, and they were in a desperate situation. Some of these people barely got out of here with their lives. Our focus was to find them shelter and food and see that they were taken care of.

SIEGLER: Achziger says the city is making sure bilingual staff are on hand at shelters and meetings to answer questions and point people toward help. FEMA seems to be doing the same. But the agency says one reason more people may not be getting help they need is trust. Some people are afraid to come forward, due to fears of deportation. But that's a fear that FEMA's William Lindsey says is unfounded.

WILLIAM LINDSEY: Our first and foremost mission is to make sure that each individual has a safe, healthy environment in which to continue their journey.


SIEGLER: Back at the hotel, some good news for Claudia's journey. A man in a navy blue FEMA jacket has just walked into the lobby. He's a native Spanish speaker, and he's helping her check on the status of her application. No word yet.

CLAUDIA: (Spanish spoken)

SIEGLER: She says she's starting from zero, but she's determined to make it through, one way or another. This is home, she says. Kirk Siegler, NPR News.

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