Heidi Dietrich
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UN Conference

One month anniversary: how have things changed?

Beat Memo


Latino Film Festival - [download edited Word doc]

Mountain View Worker Center
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[edited version]




First name: Humberto. Last name: Don't know. City of Origin: Presidente su Pueblo. State and Country: Puebla, Mexico. Job Location: Shapiro Restaurant, or maybe Akbars.

Humberto leads a growing list of undocumented workers missing since the World Trade Center attacks. Many of the disappeared are young men who lived in small apartments with other Latino immigrants. Their roommates fear reporting the missing to police because they themselves are illegal. Instead, they turn to Tepeyac, a New York human rights group which has been helping undocumented workers.

Tepeyac estimates that 1,200 Latinos died in the World Trade Center bombings, many of whom were undocumented workers. The faceless victims had no pay stubs, no W2 forms, and many, no family in New York. They shinedshoes, laundered suits, and assembled sandwiches for the executives working in the financial offices above. Most sent money home and with roommates who didn't even know each other's last names.

The Stanford chapter of MEChA, a national political advocacy group, met last Tuesday to discuss the attack's repercussions on the Latino community. The discussion was entitled "Victimas sin Caras," or "Victims without Faces."

MEChA Administrative Assistant Aryn Conrad explained that worried relatives in Latin America are searching for information on their loved ones.

"Many of these families are without access to telecommunications," Conrad said. "They only know that somewhere in America, something happened, and they haven't heard from you in a while."

One hundred families have asked Tepeyac for help in locating missing people, and 31 of those people have been found. Some were survivors, and others had simply lost contact with their families after the attacks.

When someone reports a missing person to Tepeyac, volunteers try to contact the family. Often, they must call rural areas of Latin America and break the news over the phone lines.

Tepeyac is also acting as an unemployment center for Latinos who lost their jobs because of the attacks. In addition to the restaurants and newspaper stands buried in the rubble, countless businesses in the vicinity closed due to damage or lack of business. Tepeyac reports that 2,866 unemployed workers have visited their offices. Almost half of those are undocumented. These former waiters and shoe shiners received minimum wage and lived day to day. An undocumented worker with a security nest is rare.

Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers assistance to attack victims, workers must present proof that they were employed at an affected business. For undocumented workers who were paid with cash, proof usually is an impossibility. Former employers could vouch for the workers, but most are reluctant to admit that they hired illegal immigrants.

FEMA has referred such workers to nongovernmental agencies that are assisting the relief effort, but many of these NGOs also demand proof of employment.. Otherwise, they reason, anyone could walk in off the street and ask for funds.

Families of the dead, on the other hand, are eligible for assistance. Immigration and Naturalization Commissioner James Zigler said that the families of undocumented workers can still receive aid. Illegal immigrants are used to staying in the shadows, however, and asking for help from the government can be intimidating.

Tepeyec has documented 30 missing illegal immigrants, but estimates that the number is much higher. The names of the dead won't be listed on any memorial, and no obituaries will run in the New York Times.

"The whole idea of people who died anonymously is really hard for us," Stanford Graduate Student Alfonso Gonzales said at the MEChA meeting.

Following the round table discussion, students created signs to boost campus awareness of how Latinos have been affected by the attacks. Some chose to honor the missing. One sign read "En memoria de Humberto," or "In memory of Humberto."