City Wildfire Report Good Starting Point, But Overlooks Missteps with Vulnerable Populations
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 25, 2008
SAN DIEGO – As it did in the midst of the immediate aftermath of the firestorms of October 2007, the ACLU applauds the city and county of San Diego’s massive and direct response to the worst natural disaster our region has ever seen.
In two separate reports released today, the Mayor and the County of San Diego offered detailed analyses of the government’s response to the fires and their aftermath. The entire region learned much about dealing with such a massive disruption of civic and personal lives, and most of the recommendations made by both the city and the county are sound and reasonable.
However, the city’s report makes some assertions that are at the heart of the ACLU’s and other community organizations’ concerns with the treatment of vulnerable populations during and in the aftermath of the fires. The mayor’s report claims, “No person was denied access or services and few questions were asked of the people coming to seek shelter.” This is simply not true.
In a 28-page report published one week after the fires, the ACLU, the Immigrant Rights Consortium, and Justice Overcoming Boundaries provided details of scores of instances in which Latinos, immigrants, low-income and homeless people were denied entry, forced to leave shelters, scared away, or, in one case, detained and deported. In a situation where people’s safety and security should be paramount, it is vital that all victims be afforded access to life-saving assistance without fear of apprehension, inspection, or disparate treatment.
“Frankly, we’re concerned that little or no attention was paid to the mistreatment of immigrants and other vulnerable populations,” said Andrea Guerrero, ACLU’s Field & Policy Director. “The report should have acknowledged these lapses of services and designed ways to ensure that they don’t happen again. We think the problems are fixable if officials do not ignore them.”
The city and county also tout the reverse-911 phoning system to warn potential victims of approaching fires. The system did work very well unless the residents did not speak English. Additionally, there were too few people in official capacities who could speak languages other than English. It is critical that this language issue be addressed before the next disaster strikes.
The ACLU and others will seek a meeting with the Mayor to address these concerns so that in future disasters, all victims—regardless of race, ethnicity, or income levels—will be provided with the emergency shelter and resources to deal with the catastrophe.