A bill requiring public employees who provide evacuees with disaster-related assistance to do so without asking for information or documents not strictly necessary to determine eligibility for the services, AB 2327 (Caballero), was signed into law by the governor yesterday. Civil rights organizations that had provided assistance to victims of last year's California wildfires applauded the bill.
"Emergency response policies and practices should prioritize humanitarian principles – this is essential in times of crisis," said Valerie Small Navarro, Senior Legislative Advocate, ACLU California Affiliates. "We applaud the state legislature and the governor in decisively fixing this public health and safety problem."
Supporters of the bill, which included a number of disaster aid organizations, argued that when a disaster strikes in California, everyone should be able to access the assistance they need and for which they are eligible without being subject to arbitrary and unnecessary identification checks. "We supported this bill because it conforms with the same humanitarian principles that guide the Red Cross in providing emergency assistance to as many disaster victims as possible," said Joe Craver, CEO of the American Red Cross of San Diego & Imperial Counties.
During the San Diego wildfires in the fall of 2007, public employees asked evacuees to produce proof of identity and proof of residence from an evacuated area in order to enter the emergency shelter, access emergency food and water, and speak to a relief worker. As a result, families who had escaped the fires with only the clothes on their backs were turned away, even though there was no legal requirement that they present proof of identity or residence in order to establish eligibility for emergency shelter and assistance.
When people flee their homes from a wildfire, flood, or mudslide, their first concern is to immediately get themselves and their families to safety. Unfortunately, there is little time for packing or grabbing important documents before evacuating a threatened area. The elderly, people with disabilities, the homeless, immigrants and those who are low-income are the least likely to possess and carry personal documents, and are the most likely to be affected by unnecessary document checks during a disaster.
"It is critical that immigrant populations and others feel confident that when a disaster strikes they, just like all other residents of our state, can secure the help they and their families so urgently need," said Reshma Shamasunder, Executive Director of the California Immigrant Policy Center.
We applaud the Governor for signing AB 2327 to ensure that our emergency response is effective and compassionate and focuses on the safety and well-being of all Californians.