The quality of compassion
John Marshall Mantel for The New York Times
At home with relatives of a World Trade Center
victim. Fearing betrayal and deportation, they
keep a low profile.
With Millions in 9/11 Payments, Bereaved Can’t Buy Green Cards
By CARA BUCKLEY
Published: September 3, 2006
One widow has more than $2 million but walks or rides the bus everywhere, terrified of drawing attention. Another millionaire widow stopped going to 9/11 support groups because she feared that families of police officers and firefighters might betray her. A widower has enough money to start a business building houses, but cannot buy himself a home.
One of the 9/11 widows in the office of her lawyer. “I can’t dream very high, because I have no papers,” one says.
All three lost a husband or a wife when the World Trade Center collapsed. Like thousands of others, they were beneficiaries of the federal Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund, which awarded millions of dollars to families whose loved ones died in the attacks.
But a secret sets these three apart. Like their spouses who died, each is in the country illegally. Even though the government compensated them richly for their losses, making them wealthier than they ever dreamed, the money did not change their immigration status. They fear they could be deported any day.
Five years after the terrorist attacks, these people are living with extraordinary contradictions.
Long accustomed to stashing dollar bills in coffee cans, they became millionaires overnight. But because they do not have Social Security numbers or work visas, they cannot get mortgages or driver’s licenses. They say they have spent little of the money, afraid of attracting notice.
Their spouses were labeled heroes, their names emblazoned on placards ringing ground zero. But none of these three, still living in or near New York City, feel they can publicly identify themselves.
“I can’t dream very high, because I have no papers,” said one widow from Ecuador, who, like the others, agreed to be interviewed on the condition that she not be named. “You’re always afraid of exposure. It’s a horrible feeling. But I don’t want to go back to my country. I know my husband’s spirit is here.”
After Congress created the victims’ fund, promising payouts in return for an agreement not to sue the airlines or other interests, the officials who drafted the fund’s rules explicitly stated that foreigners and illegal immigrants would be eligible. And immigration authorities announced that they would not use information provided to the fund to track people down.
But the families who received money could still face deportation if their identities come to light in some other way, their lawyers say.
A spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New York, Mark Thorn, said the agency could not comment on specific cases, but confirmed it was not focusing on the families. Still, he added, “generally speaking, anyone who is in this country illegally is vulnerable to removal.”
Legislation before Congress would grant green cards to the illegal immigrants who received money. But the measure, attached to the Senate’s immigration bill, is deadlocked with the entire package.
From the start, many immigrants were suspicious of the fund.
“They were these modest, poor, fearful people,” said Kenneth R. Feinberg, the fund’s special master, who determined the awards. “They were afraid they’d be punished.”
In the end, 11 awards went to the survivors of illegal immigrants. All those victims had worked at the restaurant Windows on the World. Although they had earned modest wages, many were upwardly mobile and supported relatives back home, factors that increased the payouts. Their awards ranged from $875,000 to $4.1 million.
This is one of the reasons that the only 9/11 show I can tolerate is Rescue Me.
Because no one cares about what happened on 9/12 and the year that they buried people, Not a funeral, but thousands. Every day in the papers. For a year.
And the years after. People act like the only meaning to 9/11 was the attack. Well, it didn't end then, and it isn't ending any time soon.
Ok, you can argue that they are here illegally and they could live extremely well back home. But is that really the best solution, the fairest solution? At some point, compassion, if for compassion's sake alone, is a quality to be cherished.
I mean, many 9/11 families are suffering quietly. We gave them money and walked away. Now, we know they would probably buy their way back with lawyers and some help, but that isn't the point. There was some resentment about the money, but no one saw, until it was an FX series, the very real dislocation sudden loss and wealth can bring.If you want proof money does not bring happiness, talk to a 9/11 family. They gave them money but not the long term psychological help they would need.
Even in this story, which is about immigration, they live cramped lives, confused lives and it's not from hiding from ICE.
posted by Steve @ 1:00:00 AM