Fusion: “Undocumented victims of Orlando shooting face unique challenges and fears”

by Joseph McKeown

Among the many affected by the tragic mass shooting in Orlando last week are undocumented immigrants. While all those recovering from the horrific tragedy face obstacles and challenges, undocumented immigrants have their own unique problems due to their legal status. “In addition to the uncertainty about whether they qualify for state and federal assistance programs,” Fusion reports, “the undocumented immigrants have to worry about whether their legal status puts them at additional risk, and what it means to be outed from the shadows by a violent tragedy.”

Out of the three undocumented immigrants who have been identified as such, one is Victor, a twenty-four-year-old Salvadoran who was shot twice. With no relatives nearby and no idea when he will be able to return to work, he’s worried about how he’s going to pay for his hospital bills. Another undocumented immigrant recovering is a thirty-three-year-old Mexican man named Javier Nava, who was shot in the abdomen. Juan Sabines, the Mexico Consul General in Orlando, met with Javier and suggested he apply for a U visa, which are for victims of certain crimes who assist law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity. While Nava would like to eventually pursue American citizenship if given the chance, what he wants most right now is to see his mother and child, which he hasn’t been able to do for many years since he came to the United States. During the hospital visit with the Mexican consul, Nava discussed how his family could apply for humanitarian visas to visit him from Mexico. 

A third undocumented man, a thirty-one-year-old Mexican, died earlier this week from his injuries, one of three Mexicans killed in the attack. For undocumented immigrants who die in the US, repatriating and burying the body can be especially expensive. For this Mexican man who died, it will cost approximately $6,000 to repatriate and bury the body in the coastal state of Veracruz. While the Mexican Consulate insists it will pay the estimated $3,000 to repatriate the body to Veracruz, friends and family of the victim still aren’t sure how they’ll afford the rest. Carmen, a friend of the victim, says that even with the consulate’s help it “won’t cover the funeral costs.”

“It’s very expensive to send their bodies back, people aren’t prepared for that,” Yesica Ramirez, an organizer with The Farmworker Association of Florida, tells Fusion. Since a trip to the United States is not possible for many families, repatriation of the body is often the only way that families can see their loved ones one time and attend the funeral. “For many families, no matter how much money they raise they still may not be able to get permission to come to the US,” Ramirez says. “For the family to be watching this back in their countries and not be able to help their sons is painful; this all hurts the family back home too.”

Immigrant rights activists have launched the website SomosOrlando.info to help immigrants find resources in their own language. The Hispanic Federation says many Spanish-speaking volunteer attorneys and mental health professionals have come forward to offer their services, which will be essential as undocumented immigrants are not eligible for Florida state health programs beyond emergency care. A crowd-funded effort by Equality Florida, an LGBT advocacy organization, is also raising funds to help all victims, regardless of legal status. “Victimization knows no status,” Jeff Dion, deputy executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, tells Fusion. “All of these [victims] and their families will be treated equally…Every situation is different and if we need to make adjustments for certain people...we will.”