Senator Bernie Sanders blasted the state of Michigan after reports circulated that undocumented immigrants living in Flint, Michigan have been denied clean drinking water. "This is a humanitarian crisis," the presidential candidate declared.
The comments came after the Detroit Free Press reported earlier this week that Flint's roughly 1,000 undocumented immigrants have faced significant barriers accessing the bottled water now being distributed throughout the city. According to both immigrants and advocates, some people have been turned away because they lacked proper identification, while many others do not even bother because they don't speak English and fear being deported.
In a strongly-worded statement on Saturday, the senator from Vermont called it "outrageous and totally unacceptable that aspiring Americans and others in Flint cannot get the clean drinking water they desperately need."
"No one should live in fear of being deported for getting a bottle of water for their family," Sanders continued. "All people, including immigrants, should have access to clean and drinkable water, regardless of immigration status or lack of identification."
According to the Free Press, the ID requirement has now been lifted. But for months, this population was forced to continue to drink the lead-tainted water, which has been connected to a deadly surge of Legionnaires' disease and a spike in lead levels in the area's children.
Omar Odette, deacon of a Catholic church that has helped mobilized to get water and filters to its majority-Latino congregation, described one such case. "This little boy, he had rashes up and down his arms. The lead is affecting this boy, but the mother spoke no English, and she still didn’t know even after all this" increased attention on the water, Odette said. It wasn't until the mother saw a report on Spanish-language Univision, that she came to the church and asked, "What am I supposed to do?"
"They’re afraid to get water," said San Juana Olivares, chair of the Genesee County Hispanic/Latino Collaborative. "They’re still living in fear," Olivares added, pointing to the spurt of deportation raids conducted by the Department of Homeland Security in recent weeks.
In his statement, Sanders spokes to this, saying that the federal government must halt the raids "immediately."
"These inhumane raids are having a chilling effect across the country, especially in Flint, preventing some of the most vulnerable people in this country from stepping out of their homes, let alone seeking clean water for their families," Sanders said.
Sanders and Clinton will be appearing in Flint next month, where the CNN-hosted debate will be held March 6th.