Editor’ Note: Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) spoke on the House floor on Oct. 3, about what he saw while he was in Puerto Rico over the weekend, the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding, and the need for U.S. cities and towns to prepare to receive Puerto Rican evacuees.
My beloved Puerto Rico, you are not alone.
We hear your cries for help and the full strength of the American government is finally coming to help.
It has been slow and no one has been as frustrated as I am that the response did not happen with the urgency and priority that Puerto Ricans – and every human being who is suffering – deserve.
I tell my colleagues what I saw and what you told me while I was there. I will work with them immediately, and make sure that this Congress treats Puerto Rico fairly and generously.
And I am not alone. The other Puerto Ricans and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are working with the leadership of the House to put together an aid package.
Cities and towns, Mayors and Governors from across the country are making their communities available to you so that you have a safe place to be while the rescue and recovery and rebuilding continues.
And standing with the Mayor of Chicago just yesterday, he said he wants the City of Chicago to be a place where any and all Puerto Ricans who need a safe place can come immediately and we will help you resettle.
You are not alone.
Mr. Speaker: I flew to Puerto Rico on Friday to see what was happening on the ground with my own eyes.
Mr. Speaker, it was worse than I imagined and it broke my heart. To see my beloved Island so destroyed, so scared for its future, and feeling so alone and isolated. There were dead animals all over the place, the people were still desperate for food and water, and anyone who is sick or elderly is finding it hard or impossible to get medicine and care.
Things are improving day by day and the number of helicopters flying missions of mercy to the interior of the Island is increasing, but almost everyone has no power. Almost everyone has no food or is having trouble finding it.
Almost everyone has no water and some are seeking water from unreliable or possibly contaminated sources.
At the same time, I also saw an amazing unity and toughness – a can do spirit that my fellow Puerto Ricans have – the ability to make a way when there is no way, to improvise, and most importantly to work together.
Any divisions of party or class that are right on the surface on a typical day in Puerto Rico – this faction vs. that faction – all of that was blown away.
The only “status issue” that matters for Puerto Ricans right now is the status of S.O.S. Save Our Souls. We need help and plenty of it.
Yesterday [Oct. 2], I spoke at a press conference in Chicago with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and leaders from Chicago, including Fire Commissioner Santiago and the head of Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management & Control, a Brigadier General in our National Guard.
The Mayor announced that 22 Chicago firefighters are going to Puerto Rico to help with the rescue and recovery efforts, including bringing equipment that may help make communications to remote parts of the Island easier.
The Mayor also announced that in Chicago, we want to be for Puerto Rico what Houston was for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina — a place of refuge where we will help you get settled, get your kids in school, get you the medical care you need and make you feel welcome.
One thing I learned in Puerto Rico this weekend is that in Chicago and the rest of the U.S. we need to start thinking about evacuation in addition to rebuilding and recovery.
I have welcomed family into my own home and people I know across the country are welcoming relatives escaping Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, but we need to ramp up our commitment beyond the family-to-family, informal relationships and look systematically at how we organize ourselves to meet the great need of our fellow citizens in the Caribbean.
Rebuilding Puerto Rico — making her a strong and self-sufficient Island Nation of industrious and hard-working people again will take years and require a long-term commitment from this Congress and this country to the well-being of our fellow man.
So, Mr. Speaker, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.
By Luis V. Gutiérrez
Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez is a Member of the Judiciary Committee and the Chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.