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Undocumented New Yorkers left out of COVID-19 relief

By staff |
April 18, 2020
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Undocumented New Yorkers left out of COVID-19 relief

New York, NY - While many people across the country have received the first wave of federal stimulus checks meant to provide immediate relief related to COVID-19, the undocumented community continues to be left out in the cold. Not only are undocumented families excluded from the stimulus package, but now New York governor Andrew Cuomo is blocking efforts to provide even limited financial aid to the immigrant community.

One of the largest myths about undocumented workers in the United States is that they do not pay taxes. This falsehood is used to justify the fact that undocumented families have little or no access to public assistance; the argument goes “they don’t pay taxes, so they shouldn’t benefit from tax-funded services like SNAP and Medicare.” The reality, however, is that undocumented immigrants almost always pay their taxes, even though they do not receive the same benefits that non-citizens do. Undocumented people pay sales taxes and payroll tax deductions automatically, and often go out of their way to pay income taxes using Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) instead of Social Security numbers.

In recognition of this reality, states like California have been moving towards providing state-level financial relief to the undocumented community. In California, this means that 150,000 undocumented immigrants will now receive a $500 stimulus check to help recover from COVID-19. The total cost of providing that relief will be $75 million, which is miniscule compared to the $2.5 billion that undocumented workers paid in California state and local taxes last year.

Unlike California, however, New York has yet to commit any state-level funds to assisting the undocumented community’s COVID-19 recovery. In a state with more than 650,000 estimated undocumented immigrants, this decision not to provide any stimulus funding is not only discriminatory but is also irresponsible from a public health standpoint. While ICE continues to carry out raids on our immigrant communities, Governor Cuomo is doing his part to make sure that working-class immigrant New Yorkers have no choice but to continue working during the quarantine, since there is no safety net to fall back on if they get their hours cut or are laid off.

This desperate situation effects not only undocumented workers themselves, but also their loved ones, their dependents, their neighbors and ultimately the community at large. When families are forced to go against public health recommendations in order to survive economically, the very fabric of the community is at risk.

Considering the fact that the five New York ZIP codes with the highest rates of COVID-19 infection are all characterized by large, vibrant immigrant communities, what we have are communities under siege. These undocumented families are already under pressure from ICE raids, police harassment and other forms of national oppression, and they now have to contend with some of the highest rates of COVID-19 infection, some of the worst access to healthcare, and - based on Cuomo’s recent remarks - they will continue to be excluded from state and federal-level stimulus funding.

This situation is unacceptable, and the only way to change it is to build powerful movements and organizations with real roots in these communities, which can mobilize and fight for real material improvements in living conditions and access to resources. Cuomo’s comments are yet another reminder that we cannot rely on elected officials to create the necessary change - in fact, they’re often the ones standing in the way.

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