Things That Matter

Latinos Made Up Most Of The 9/11 Clean-Up Crew, And They’re Still Fighting For Their Residency

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For years, we have been mourning the 2,977 lives that were claimed as a result of the horrific September 11, terrorist attacks in New York. But what we don’t think about as often is the amount of people whose health is still suffering today from the aftermath of September 11th. To this day, 9/11 first responders, rescue workers, and cleaners suffer from asthma, acid reflux, musculoskeletal conditions, chronic respiratory problems, PTSD, and inordinate rates of cancer.

In the aftermath of September 11th, various cleaning companies were contracted to clean up the areas surrounding Ground Zero. Cleaning workers — many of whom were undocumented immigrants — spent their days clearing asbestos-filled dust from the buildings surrounding Ground Zero. Sometimes, they witnessed traumatizing scenes, like first responders uncovering body parts from the rubble.

Back then, they didn’t know how poisonous the chemicals were. Since then, a disproportionate amount of them have battled cancer — a common outcome of folks in close contact with Ground Zero. Some have lost their lives to their health problems.

Although 9/11 rescue and cleanup workers were entitled to free medical care from various governmental programs, fear, and cultural and language barriers prevented them from doing so.

“Many of them were not aware of the programs because they were not connected in the same way that many other responders were,” said Joan Reibman, medical director at the World Trade Center Environmental Health Center, to NBC News. “Many of them were also not English speakers.” Many of them admitted to eschewing medical care because they were afraid of being deported.

And while the lingering health effects of 9/11 are difficult enough to deal with, these workers feel like the U.S. government refuses to recognize their contribution to the healing of New York City.

“Instead of giving us some compensation, they could have given us (immigration) papers,” former cleaning worker Lucelly Gil told NBC. “All of us, all of the Hispanic workers, we saw the consequences of that cleanup work later on.”

Just once, in 2017, New York congressman Joseph Crawley announced a bill that would put rescue and cleanup workers on a “fast track” to legal immigration status. But after he was voted out of office, no one stepped up to continue his project. His seat is now held by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now, these immigrant 9/11 cleanup workers say they feel forgotten by the country that they gave so much to — some of them, their lives.

“We need to be remembered. We were all immigrants who contributed to the U.S. We worked hard there, paid taxes, grew old there. Some cleanup workers I knew died of cancer,” said former cleanup worker, 59-year-old Luis Soriano to NBC News. “We should all be remembered for what we did.”

The casting off of these heroes is just another example of the U.S. government discounting the worth and contributions of immigrants. These cleanup workers ask for the simple reward of legal immigration status, and for some reason, the government doesn’t even want to do that.

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