Oklahoma City The head of central Oklahoma's American Red Cross chapter sought Friday to dissipate any fear of arrest for illegal immigrants seeking help because of a deadly ice storm.
Vince Hernandez, the CEO of The American Red Cross of Central Oklahoma, said the organization's shelters do not run background checks on those seeking shelter and no one should be afraid of seeking assistance.
"The message I want to get out is that the American Red Cross, we're not a policing agency. We provide help for people that need help no matter who they are. We don't discriminate for any reason," Hernandez said. "We just can't say that enough to try to get people to feel comfortable to come down to our shelter and take advantage of the services if they need them."
Hernandez said it's typical for illegal immigrants to be hesitant to come forward in times of crisis, but recent legislation to crack down on those in the country illegally certainly hasn't helped during a storm that's already resulted in 23 deaths in the state.
"It's worse probably since House Bill 1804, but it's been a challenge anyway," Hernandez said.
Patricia Fennell, executive director of the Latino Community Development Agency in Oklahoma City, said the fear of immigration checks is compounded by cultural tendencies.
"People do not want to seek help outside of their extended family," Fennell said. "That is a cultural thing."
Fennell encouraged anyone needing help to call the 211 hot line that offers multilingual operators. She said one woman who was unaware of the hot line walked with her four children to the agency, where workers took her to the Red Cross shelter at the Cox Convention Center.
"They had no food, no money, no phone, no car and then the electricity went off," Fennell said.
Carrie DeWeese, program supervisor for Oklahoma 211, said the hot line has bilingual staff in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas and can tap into a service that offers help in 153 different languages for people in need of food or shelter.
Once they arrive at a shelter, Hernandez said people need only write down their name and address before gaining admittance. No driver's license or paperwork is needed.
Ice had knocked out power to more than 600,000 people in the state at one point. Crews were still working to restore power to more than 200,000 customers on Friday.