From the high-rise apartment buildings that overlooked the pile
of concrete, steel beams and black smoke that remained after the
collapse of the Twin Towers, Pedro could see recovery workers pull out
limbs and cadavers.
Pedro, an undocumented Colombian immigrant
who did not want his surname published, went down to Ground Zero during
the days and weeks after the attacks of September 11, 2001 to clean.
Pedro, who helped get New York City back on its feet, doesnt get a
heros welcome. Instead, he and thousands of other undocumented
immigrants not only suffer from 9/11 physical and mental health related
injuries, but also from the effects of a failed immigration reform
policy that forces them to live in constant economic hardship and in
fear of deportation.
I oftentimes do not have money for rent, and theyve cut my telephone and
cable. Sometimes there is hardly anything to eat, said Pedro, a
47-year-old resident of Flushing who suffers from post traumatic stress
disorder, insomnia, asthma, nasal drip, asphyxiation and exhaustion. I
know of a lot of fellow workers who are having a difficult time.
to Oscar Paredes, director of the Latin American Workers Project in
Jackson Heights, about 3,000 undocumented workers assisted with the
clean-up at or near Ground Zero** the days, weeks and months after the
attacks most without the proper equipment to protect against exposure
to hazardous materials.
I would ask them about the conditions
that they worked under. Id ask them if they had masks and they said
no. If they had overalls, they said no, if they had helmets and
they said no, said Paredes, who had originally ventured to Ground
Zero to help workers with pay issues but ended up advocating for their
health. Lastly I asked them if there were showers, if they had water,
if they washed their hands before they ate, and if they went home
wearing the same clothes. Their answers horrified me.
and others such as lower Manhattan Congressmember Jerrold Nadler
referred to the lack of enforcement of the federal occupational safety
and hazardous work regulations that required employers to protect their
As a result, around 16,000 rescuers, first responders
and clean-up workers became victims of the toxins and chemicals in the
And this included the undocumented workers like Pedro, who
first cleaned at 100 Church Street before moving on to other apartment
buildings between the third week of September 2001 and January 2002.
and thousands of others hired by subcontractors got paid between $5 to
$8 an hour for eight to 12 hour shifts, sometimes working up to seven
days, according to Paredes.
These undocumented workers began to get sick, some right away, and others not for weeks, months or years later.
first the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program,
comprised of a consortium of occupational medicine experts in a series
of hospitals that include Mt. Sinai and Bellevue, treated as many
uninsured undocumented workers as they could due to limited
However, from fiscal year 2003 through
current fiscal year 2009, Congress appropriated $393 million for
medical monitoring and treatment to the World Trade Center responders,
according National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
spokesperson Fred Blosser. This has funded the World Trade Center (WTC)
Environmental Health Center at Bellevue Hospital and Mount Sinai Center
for Occupational & Environmental Medicine, both of which have
provided tens of thousands of treatment services for the listed
WTC-related conditions under NIOSH.
Most of the undocumented
workers who have been screened and their injury classified as caused by
9/11 receive monitoring and treatment through the WTC program. Paredes,
however, quickly pointed out that this only covers their 9/11 related
health problems and they still have no insurance to cover other health
But, because of their undocumented status, their case is particular.
Dr. Jaime Cárcamo said that he began to see patients related to the
clean-up at ground zero as early as 2002. In total he sees about 60 to
70 patients and he estimates that 98 percent of them do not have legal
residency status. Cárcamo said that the post traumatic stress suffered
by this group varies from others because everything makes them
They think that because they are undocumented they
have no rights and so they refuse to take advantage of the options that
are available to help them, he said. They fear that if they ask for
help they will be deported. This aggravated their problems.
worker Alex Sanchez, an American citizen who now advocates and lobbies
for 9/11 workers in Congress along with Nadler and Queens
Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, agrees that the undocumented have had
to face additional challenges.
There has been an increase in
police stopping people to ask for their identification. [The
undocumented] live in fear and sometimes get erroneous information.
Its very difficult, said Sanchez. These undocumented are souls with
out a physical presence, they are zombies.
introduced a bill almost eight years ago to grant permanent residency
to the spouses and children of the undocumented victims of 9/11, said
undocumented workers who died have been attacked as Americans. She
wants to focus on getting that bill, the September 11 Family
Humanitarian Relief and Patriotism Act, and the James Zadroga 9/11
Health and Compensation Act passed first.
They were serving
this country and they deserve to have legal status, said Maloney. You
are talking about 16 people who lost their loved one and the amount of
resistance to this bill was unbelievable.
A Jamaica resident,
70-year-old Nayibe Padredino and her sister both began to clean three
days after 9/11. The two Colombian women began to clean a three-story
library near Broadway and Vesey before they moved on to myriad of
Padredino said she and 30 others only got a paper
facemask to clean the dust, ashes and debris. They used vacuums and
washcloths. Within two months she began to cough, then exhaustion,
headaches, and then in 2002 she got asthma.
We are in the
shadows, said Padredino, who lives with her son and sister and has no
source of income. No one ever said that the undocumented couldnt
**Make the Road New York has also been key in supporting Latino ground zero laborers to seek
better treatment for 9/11 laborers and visas for affected undocumented