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Hurricane Harvey: The Experiences of Immigrants Living in the Texas Gulf Coast

On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey began devastating large parts of the Texas Gulf Coast region. In order to provide policymakers, funders, and others working on the recovery effort with reliable information about how Texas residents were affected by Hurricane Harvey and what their needs and priorities are when it comes to recovery, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation partnered to conduct a representative survey of residents in 24 counties along the Texas Gulf Coast that were heavily impacted by property damage from the storm. Using data from the survey, this brief gives an overview of the views and experiences of immigrants who were living in Texas Gulf Coast counties that were affected by Hurricane Harvey1. For a variety of reasons, including potential language barriers, lack of social ties, and fears of drawing attention to their own or someone else’s legal resident status, immigrants may be more vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters and their aftermath compared to those who were born in the United States. This summary aims to highlight immigrants’ experiences with Harvey in order to better understand the particular needs of this potentially vulnerable population both in recovering from Harvey and preparing for future storms. A full report on the survey can be found here.

Key Findings

  • Compared with native-born residents, immigrants in the Texas counties surveyed report more tenuous financial and social circumstances. Seven in ten say they have just a few or no people living nearby they can rely on for help or support, and more than half report incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level.

    Analysis: Immigrants living along Texas Gulf Coast were more likely than U.S.-born neighbors to suffer employment or income losses after #HurricaneHarvey

  • Immigrants were more likely than other residents to report employment and income losses as a result of Hurricane Harvey (64 percent versus 39 percent). While immigrants were somewhat less likely than native residents to report damage to their homes as a result of the storm, among those who did have damage, immigrants were less likely to say they had applied for disaster assistance (40 percent versus 64 percent) or that they had any type of home or flood insurance (41 percent versus 55 percent).
  • Half of immigrants whose homes were damaged (46 percent) said they were worried that if they tried to get help in recovering from Hurricane Harvey, they would draw attention to their or a family member’s immigration status.
  • Immigrants who were affected by Harvey were more likely than non-immigrants to say they needed additional help getting medical care following the storm, reflecting the fact that immigrants were less likely to report having health insurance or a regular source of care.
  • Similar to residents overall, immigrants ranked rebuilding destroyed homes, along with financial and housing help for those who need it, as the top priorities for Harvey recovery efforts.
Section 1: A Profile of Immigrants in Harvey-Affected Texas Counties

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.