Undocumented immigrants late to know about lead in water, scared to get help

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FLINT (WJRT) - (01/20/16) - There are estimates that a group of people in Flint are not getting the supplies they need during this water emergency.

Perhaps as many as 1,000 are not going to water distribution centers, they're not calling 211 and they're not getting deliveries. It's because they're scared.

These people are undocumented immigrants living in Flint, mostly on the city's east side.

It's hard to imagine, but many of them weren't even aware of lead in Flint's water until a couple weeks ago.

"One day I turned on the faucet and the water started coming out yellow,” said Lucia.

Lucia has been living in Flint for more than a decade. She left Mexico 23 years ago. We're not using the single mother's face or name, because she's undocumented.

"I’m not here legally. And I’m always scared that they'll arrest me, and then deport me," she said.

Lucia heard about lead in Flint's water four months ago from her son. Since then, she's been buying bottled water - and she won't get close to a distribution center after a recent experience.

"I got close to see what they were giving out, and it was water. And the first thing they asked me for was my license," she said.

Some local groups have been quietly going around the east side trying to distribute water, but the problem is a lot of these undocumented immigrants are scared - and they won't even open the door for them.

"Some folks we've found are very nervous about being found. They want to avoid talking to any strangers," said Deacon Paul Donnelly, at St. Mary's church.

Donnelly has only been in Flint four months. He's made it his mission to help undocumented immigrants.

"They share the dignity that we have which is given us by God. And they're a thousand people that God wants us to care for at least with water and food,” Donnelly said.

Donnelly and others close to the situation say there are at least 1,000 undocumented immigrants in Flint. Most are Hispanic and some are just learning English - which is why the news of lead in the water spread slowly.

"Some of them only in the last two weeks, one week, because they've heard about the lead from family members who live far away,” Donnelly said.

Lucia says she's grateful people like Donnelly are there to help, but she's still worried her family found out too late.

"Most of all, I'm scared about my son because of his age and because he's still in school,” Lucia said.

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