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Support offered to undocumented families impacted by Marshall Fire

Sister Carmen has helped about 550 individuals impacted by the Marshall Fire and has given out $250,000 in gift card donations.

LAFAYETTE, Colo. — Recovering after losing everything to a wildfire is not an easy process for anyone, but for families with mixed immigration status it's even tougher. 

The Sister Carmen Community Center in Lafayette has stepped up to help all families impacted by the Marshall Fire, but especially those with mixed immigration status unsure if they could or should apply for federal relief. 

9NEWS spoke to Abi Ocampo, the bilingual advocate and cultural ambassador at Sister Carmen helping families in need. 

What would deter a family of mixed immigration status from seeking federal relief?

Abi Ocampo: A lot of the families that are mixed status, they might have children under 18 and they don’t know the system. Maybe it’s a language barrier. A lot of people are afraid of public charge, even if that doesn’t exist any more. But they don’t know what will happen in the future if they want to apply for a residency or citizenship, so they kind of back away from [the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)] and they don’t really seek the help that is there.

A lot of these families are uncertain about what exactly can be accessed, and a lot of them don’t even know that they could access it. When you hear "federal," a lot of the families just kind of want to back away because its been that culture for a long time.

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What are these families going through?

Ocampo: I’ve had families that have lived [in their burned homes] for generations, and all of the sudden their house is gone and they have never asked for help. They have never really encountered housing instability or food insecurity so all of the sudden they’re just kind of left with, "What do I do?"

RELATED: Marshall Fire survivors have received $43.6 million in federal aid, FEMA says

Why is it important to help undocumented and mixed immigration families?

Ocampo: Even though these families are different from maybe a U.S. resident or a citizen, they’re still humans at the end of the day. We should show compassion and kindness and realize one day we’re on the giving end, and another day we’re at the receiving end.

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What does Sister Carmen do to help these families?

Ocampo: We’ve always been a family resource center that provides family’s stability and we serve without discrimination. We’ve been here for over 40 years and our main job is to keep people stable, housed, fed and right now with the Marshall Fire, if people can provide a FEMA number we’re helping.

We also understand some of these families that might be undocumented might not be able to provide [a FEMA number], so we do things like proof of address and we have the Marshall Fire map where we can see if the house was destroyed or damaged. But if they’re asking for help, we know that they need the help. 

We’ve helped about 550 individuals and that’s not counting how many people are in the household, so maybe that’s double or triple. We’ve given over $250,000 in gift card donations and 10,000 pounds of food.

Families in need can contact the Sister Carmen Community Center at (303) 665-4342. Spanish-speaking representatives are available. 

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