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Puerto Ricans fleeing island for a better life face scams, and adversity

Posted at 10:34 PM, Feb 12, 2019

Before Hurricane Maria, life for thousands of Puerto Ricans felt blissfully mundane. But the fallout, more than a year after the storm passed, is showing some Puerto Ricans just how hard getting to a “new” normal can be.

Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans abandoned the island they call home following Hurricane Maria.

Today, even more continue to move to Florida in search of a better life.

In early December, Wanda Irizarry left Ponce, a city on the southwest part of the island, for Florida.

“I never imagined I’d get here,” Irizarry said. “It’s not easy for us when we come to these places, we go through a lot of things.”

Last month, Irizarry fell victim to a Craigslist rental scam. Irizarry filed a report with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, giving them all of the emails, text messages, and receipts for payment.

She said she called the man who tried to rent her the fake listing, but her number was blocked. Irizarry tells ABC Action News reporter Michael Paluska she thinks he preyed on her because she was vulnerable and in need of a place to stay. Irizarry said he initially asked for $1,800 for deposit and first month’s rent. But in the end, she only gave him $950.

Irizarry said her situation is dire, but not as bad as life in Puerto Rico. We talked to her at a run-down motel on Busch Blvd. where Catholic Charities put her up until she could find permanent housing. She’s been following the news and worries what will become of her island if federal funds to help islanders recover stop.

“Imagine everybody’s gonna die of hunger because everybody depends on the food stamps and there is no work, no work,” Irizarry said. “I don’t think that’s necessary. It’s a waste of money that he could use that money for people that really need it; especially in Puerto Rico.”

The federal government has not said they will reallocate disaster funds to build the border wall. But government officials in Puerto Rico are worried.

On Tuesday, the official account of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration - Office of the Governor of Puerto Rico in Washington, D.C. tweeted this to President Trump:

“The suffering of those who lost everything should not be used to finance a political promise @realDonaldTrump. Puerto Ricans and all Americans affected by these disasters deserve to meet their needs " @Mercader1

The money for the wall could possibly be drawn from the Army Corps of Engineer's Long Term Disaster Recovery Investment Plan Construction Account, which totals about $13.9 billion and is comprised from more than 50 projects – mainly from Puerto Rico, as well as Texas, Florida, California – and to a lesser degree projects in Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

The White House has specifically asked the Army Corps of Engineers to examine what funds could be redirected to the border wall from an emergency supplemental that passed in February 2018.