Many Undocumented Workers Pay Taxes But Can't Get COVID-19 Checks

Excluded from federal relief programs, jobless undocumented workers rely on themselves and private funding to cope amid pandemic.

Many Undocumented Workers Pay Taxes But Can't Get COVID-19 Checks
United Educators of San Francisco

The U.S. government has started sending stimulus payments to workers around the country. But millions of undocumented immigrants won't receive them even though they pay taxes. That includes Martina Sanchez Rodriguez. 

"I work taking care of elderly people. I'm the one who makes them something to eat, that makes sure they take their medicine. I make sure they're able to bathe themselves," said Sanchez Rodriguez, who moved to Chicago from Mexico nearly 20 years ago to seek a better life for her children.

She's been undocumented ever since. She provides for her household by looking after an elderly woman twice a week. But because she files her taxes without a Social Security number, she's ineligible to receive federal relief.

"I am at peace and grateful at the same time to my employer, who at least touched his heart and said: I will support you," Sanchez Rodriguez said.

She's been furloughed because of the coronavirus, but her employer is still paying her wages through April. Like Sanchez Rodriguez, jobless undocumented immigrants nationwide have to rely on their own networks to survive. 

"With this pledge campaign, which came out as a very simple idea, we're seeing the vast majority of working class people actually do want to help each other," said Frank Lara. 

He started a campaign at his San Fransisco teachers union to pledge federal relief payments to local undocumented families. He says so far more than 320 individuals plan to donate their checks, raising over $100,000. 

"They only have their labor to make money. And if you're asking them to no longer work, then they have no money. It's a tragedy, and we wanted to make sure we gave voice to those voiceless folks," Lara said.

From California to New York, organizations helping low-wage immigrant workers are also fundraising. The Workers Justice Project, which runs two job centers in Brooklyn, is trying to raise $100,000 to help its mostly undocumented members.   

"There is a deep recession that is hitting day laborers, domestic workers. And that has impacted the economic life of thousands of immigrants who are now left alone and without any safety net," said Ligia Guallpa, executive director of the Workers Justice Project. 

Besides crowdfunding, immigrant advocates are also calling on city and state governments to provide relief to workers regardless of immigration status in the absence of federal help. As for Sanchez Rodriguez, she says she's tired of being "invisible."  

"I would like to tell all politicians to not forget about us: all the people who are cleaning, taking care of kids and elderly people."