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Illegal immigrants afraid to get storm aid, fearing deportation

New Orleans, LA (AHN) - Illegal immigrants are in a bind following Hurricane Katrina. Not only must they go day by day living without food, money, or possessions, many have to steer clear of the massive amount of government officials who have flocked to the area, for fear of being deported. Some sneak into shelters at night and slip back out first thing in the morning to avoid being noticed. Others avoid government help altogether, opting to rough out the chaos in a land unfamiliar to them.

Jeffrey Passel of the Pew Hispanic Center estimates 20,000 to 35,000 illegal immigrants reside in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Mexican president Vicente Fox is appealing to this demographic with messages in both English and Spanish, urging them to seek help at Mexican consulates or from U.S. rescue workers. Out of fear, however, many are ignoring this advice and are seeking help within local churches and small, Spanish-speaking communities.

Mexican officials are scrambling to set up "mobile consulates" for illegal immigrants living outside major cities, but few have responded.

With the knowledge they will not be eligible for federal aid, many illegals are staying in their flooded homes and apartments to protect their belongings.

For 45 days, U.S. officials are suspending a requirement calling for employers to check workers' identification. Fox says the U.S. pledges not to send people back during the immediate aftermath. Washington has yet to confirm this.

Four roommates - three Mexicans and a Honduran - decided to ride out the storm in their trailer in Marrero. They died, asphyxiated by a faulty generator after the storm passed.

Of the 9,600 Salvadorans scattered throughout New Orleans, only 40 have gone to shelters, according to Margarita de Escobar, vice minister for Salvadorans living abroad.

Roughly 40,000 Mexicans live in Louisiana and about 90 have been reported missing.

About half of the 30,000 Vietnamese living in Louisiana have taken refuge in churches or with friends and family in Houston, which also has a large Vietnamese population.

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