Ruined Infrastructure and a Refugee Crisis

Photo by NASA’s Earth Observatory | CC BY 2.0

Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck Puerto Rico in September-October 2017. The impact of these storms was great, but greater still are the convulsions on the island long after the storms had passed over. Puerto Rico’s infrastructure remains in tatters, with the power grid still largely dysfunctional and basic institutions such as schools and hospitals on life support. Not surprisingly, large numbers of Puerto Ricans—who are citizens of the United States—have moved to the mainland. The Centre for Puerto Rican Studies (Hunter College, New York) estimates that of a population of 3.5 million, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans will make this journey. Already, 130,000 Puerto Ricans have arrived in Florida since October.

Towns and States in the mainland U.S. that are already home to Puerto Ricans have welcomed thousands more since the storms of this year. In Holyoke, Massachusetts, for instance, hundreds of Puerto Ricans have already arrived to join their families. There is little indication that these people will return to the island. Betty Medina Lichtenstein of Enlace de Familias says that it is the elderly who are likely to return, while the younger families seem to want to stay on.

The arrival of thousands of families into a State such as Massachusetts has meant that a thousand additional students have already been enrolled in Massachusetts’ public schools. School officials say that they are sympathetic to the…

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