HONOLULU (KHON2) — The deadline is approaching for Maui residents impacted by the August fires to apply for FEMA assistance, but there is some concern that many in the Latino community have not yet applied. Community advocates said there is a lot of hesitancy among the Spanish-speaking community. 

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According to last year’s Census, Latinos made up 12% of the population in Maui County, but community advocates believe that number is underreported. 

The Roots Reborn Lahaina Executive Director Veronica Mendoza-Jachowski said many in the immigrant community have spent their life trying not to draw attention to themselves. 

Mendoza-Jachowski said, “We have individuals who are immigrants and as such when that time to report yourself to the government comes around they’re not necessarily ready to jump the gun to do that.”

Roots Reborn Lahaina is a community-based organization that was formed by the need to provide resources and guidance to the immigrant community on Maui after the wildfires. Mendoza-Jachowski said many Latinos are fearful to ask for much-needed assistance, either because they do not understand the language or due to their immigration status. 

Mendoza-Jachowski said, “You are afraid of getting in trouble because your reality has always been to fly under the radar.” 

FEMA Public Information Officer Jovanna Garcia said the agency is aware of the hesitancy that exists in the immigrant community. 

Garcia said, “There’s a lot of fear there’s a lot of people Latinos or minorities or people that have been impacted that still haven’t registered with FEMA or received other resources for the simple fact that they believe that this location here (Lahaina Civic Center) or at the Maui College it’s not a safe location which is not correct.”

Garcia said some of the people impacted by the fires believe they will not qualify due to their immigration status. She advises not to shut the door before asking, especially as the deadline to apply for FEMA or Small Business Administration assistance approaches. 

“Those that are undocumented, if they have a child that is a citizen or a resident in the home.” Garcia said, “Yes they are eligible to receive assistance because everything will be under the child’s name.”

She also encourages people who do not have someone in the household who is a citizen or a resident to seek assistance, they may still be eligible for other types of assistance such as the Red Cross. 

Mendoza-Jachowski said her community is resilient but some are having to make difficult decisions. 

Mendoza-Jachowski said, “After building a life here and raising their family here. They’re having to make the decision of going off island.”

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More details about FEMA assistance can be found, here.