Fear of the recent crackdown on illegal immigration by the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency has kept Austinites from accessing health, education and basic needs services provided by local nonprofits.
In particular, those nonprofits whose clients are mostly Hispanic report seeing a dip in attendance since the initial operations by ICE in Austin on February 9. Fear of an ICE raid not only affects the organizations’ clients but also their staff, said leaders.
Iliana Gilman, chief executive officer of El Buen Samaritano, said that in the weeks since the initial ICE operations, it has experienced significantly fewer visits for their on-campus services. El Buen is a faith-based nonprofit that provides coordinated medical and wellness services and educational classes to about 10,500 Central Texans each year. Almost 70 percent of the people it serves are Hispanic.
Gilman said that in the first week after ICE operations launched, El Buen saw a 50 percent drop in clinic visits, a 30 percent drop in student attendance and a 30 percent drop in people visiting the emergency food pantry. Those numbers have slowly increased since the initial operations, but the fear that kept clients away is still there, she added.
“The bigger impact will be over the long term,” said Gilman. “If we stop seeing people for chronic disease management like diabetes, they’ll get sicker and sicker. And as theses policies continue to cut services and create new barriers to services, that’s going to have health and financial implications for the whole community.”
Julie M. Ballestros, executive director of Manos de Cristo, said her organization has also seen a drop in clients. Manos de Cristo’s clients are 85 percent Hispanic. It offers dental services, a food pantry and English classes.
“When the raids first happened a few weeks ago, you could really see it. We usually see a line of people waiting to receive dental services, but after the raids there was no line for days,” she said.
Neither Manos nor El Buen require information about clients’ residency status to provide services, but El Buen does allow clients to provide that information when accessing its health services because certain levels of residency and income may qualify a patient for additional services.
On the other hand, El Buen has seen an increase in demand for its mental health services despite the stigma attached to those services, said Gilman. “It’s a reflection on how this is affecting our clients,” she said.
Because El Buen operates from an 11-acre campus in south Austin, Gilman said she and her staff are concerned about becoming a target for ICE. “It keeps me up at night,” she said. “I feel like my role should be to protect my staff and the people who come here.”
“We have a church on campus and we’re supposed to be considered a safe zone,” said Gilman, “but I’ve been warned that if ICE were to show up, I can’t keep them off this property.” Gilman added that an ICE officer would have to show a warrant for a specific person with specific dates to enter a building.
At the same time, she said, if the El Buen campus were to be targeted, she would make sure the community knew about it. “I’m not going to hide or be intimidated,” she said. “Our role is to stand up for people. This is a human rights issue.”
PHOTO: Photo of El Buen Samaritano’s on-campus clinic. Photo by Joshua Garza
NOTE: This article is published through a partnership with the Austin American-Statesman, which first published this story on March 5, 2017.