Airfare Services Available to Pulse Shooting Victims Present Challenges for Undocumented People

Use quotes to search for exact phrases. Use AND/OR/NOT between keywords or phrases for more precise search results.

News Human Rights

Airfare Services Available to Pulse Shooting Victims Present Challenges for Undocumented People

Tina Vasquez

Undocumented people can board commercial airlines for flights within the United States, but if they live outside of Washington, D.C. or the 12 states that provide undocumented people with IDs accepted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), they must obtain a foreign passport from their country of origin’s consulate.

In the days since the Pulse nightclub shooting that left 49 people dead and more than 50 injured, advocacy organizations and corporations have taken steps to provide services to the attack’s victims and survivors, along with their families. Some of those services, however, are not without hurdles for undocumented people affected by the tragedy.

Equality Florida, an Orlando, Florida-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, is working with the National Center for Victims of Crime to raise money for the National Compassion Fund, which reports that 100 percent of the proceeds will go to survivors and victims. Those in need of funds must fill out an online form.

Part of the challenge has been making those affected by the tragedy aware of how they can obtain victim relief funds and help with funeral services, or receive counseling and legal services, according to Ida Eskamani, Equality Florida’s development officer for North and Central Florida. The organization is disseminating information about these resources online in both English and Spanish.

JetBlue Airways has been offering free flights to and from Orlando for immediate family members who need to attend funerals or be with their injured loved ones. Survivors and family members can contact 1-800-JETBLUE for more information.

In addition to providing free flights to immediate family members of survivors, United Airlines is waiving all costs for the transportation of remains. In order to qualify for flights or the repatriation of a loved one’s body, family members must fill out forms provided by United Airlines that ask for basic contact information, the victim’s name, and their relationship.

A spokesperson from United Airlines told Rewire that the airline has provided similar services to families affected by other tragedies, dating back to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. The airline doesn’t typically promote it, she said, because it’s not about publicity, but rather “doing the right thing and assisting families in a tangible way.”

Other organizations are making their services available to affected families. On Friday, the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Central and South Florida chapters partnered with Immigration Equality to launch “Immigrant Action Orlando,” which includes a hotline number community members can call. According to a press release, the project was created as a way of helping the many community members who have come forward since the shooting asking for help on immigration matters.

Sunday’s shooting hit Orlando’s immigrant community particularly hard, and families are struggling with the costs of repatriating bodies. Jorge Rivas and Rafa Fernandez De Castro of Fusion reported Monday that several of the victims were undocumented, including Juan Chavez-Martinez, whose family is currently fundraising online to repatriate his body and hold his funeral in Mexico, where his family is based. JetBlue is offering free flights to undocumented community members and Eskamani confirmed with Rewire that United Airlines is also offering flights and transferring remains regardless of citizenship status.

“These are unique circumstances because the Pulse shooting has impacted vulnerable communities who already live in fear, communities who have not been immune to hate,” Eskamani said. “This primarily impacted the Latino community and many who were undocumented, whether they were victims or family members.”

As Rewire reported Wednesday, undocumented survivors and the undocumented family members of victims could qualify for U visas, set aside for victims of violent crimes who are willing to help law enforcement with the investigation. But in the state of Florida, the coverage for hospital care for an undocumented victim is limited. Traveling to Orlando from within the United States can also prove to be difficult for undocumented people.

Undocumented individuals can board commercial airlines for flights within the United States, but if they live outside of Washington, D.C. or the 12 states that provide undocumented people with IDs accepted by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), they must obtain a foreign passport from their country of origin’s consulate. Without a passport, they cannot travel by plane to the consulate, which may be located across their state or across the country. Funerals happening outside of the United States are likely off-limits for undocumented family members, even those with foreign passports. In most cases, traveling abroad will result in not being able to re-enter the United States.

For undocumented family members seeking to attend funerals within U.S. territories, immigration law professor Allan Wernick told Rewire there is good news: Many consulates have an emergency process in place and will be empathetic to the circumstances surrounding the Pulse nightclub shooting, and will likely do what they can to hasten the process. But, ultimately, the length of time it takes to obtain a passport depends on the country. Wernick recommends checking with the consulate for specific information about emergency processes and any documentation needed to expedite the process.

Wernick suggests undocumented family members who are able to obtain passports to attend a funeral and who are flying for the first time not be afraid if their undocumented status comes to the attention of the TSA.

“I double dare any TSA or immigration officer to hassle somebody who is suffering this tragedy,” the professor told Rewire. “If they were a member of my family who only had a passport from their country of origin, I would tell them not to worry about flying to attend the funeral.”

Though the professor could not guarantee the successful return of undocumented people taking advantage of these opportunities, he said the chances of an issue arising are slim, “if, for no other reason, TSA or ICE won’t want the bad publicity of hassling the family members of those injured or killed in the shooting.”

Eskamani said the challenges facing immigrant and undocumented communities after the shooting may seem overwhelming, but organizations like hers—and the greater Orlando area—are committed to serving the victims, survivors, and their families.

“As a whole, I believe people are approaching this with love and compassion,” the development officer and Orlando native told Rewire. “We’re very aware that the communities impacted in this shooting are already so vulnerable, but we’re doing whatever we can to lift up those voices, connect these communities, and make some good out of this horrific hate crime.”