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Unemployed And Undocumented, Thousands Turn To Community Organizations For Support04:59
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Ada lost her restaurant job in March. Because she's in the country without documentation, she's not eligible for unemployment benefits. (Shannon Dooling/WBUR)
Ada lost her restaurant job in March. Because she's in the country without documentation, she's not eligible for unemployment benefits. (Shannon Dooling/WBUR)

En español, traducido por El Planeta Media.

Standing outside of her home in Boston, Ada told me about her old job — the one she lost back in March.

"I had like three or four years working in the restaurant. We make, like, wraps, how do you say, sandwich, salads. Something like that," she said.

Ada went to high school in Boston but was born in El Salvador. WBUR agreed not to use her last name because she said she fears for her safety if she were to be deported.

The 30-year-old lives with her mom, sister, boyfriend and her two children who are both U.S. citizens. Her 9-year-old son is the only one who hasn't been sick with COVID-19.

"It's a hard time because almost everybody from my house getting sick and my boyfriend almost die," she said, her voice cracking. "And the only support that we have is [from] Centro Presente because they know my situation."

"I don't see the state doing enough. I don't see our governor doing enough."

Patricia Montes

Thousands of people in the state who are unemployed and undocumented live in similar circumstances, without access to federal or state benefits, and organizations like East Boston-based Centro Presente are trying to fill that void.

"[Undocumented residents] are suffering because most of them are losing their jobs and more recently a lot of families are under-employed," said Patricia Montes, Centre Presente's executive director.

The group is part of the Massachusetts Immigrant Collaborative, a larger coalition of 15 organizations working to distribute cash assistance and free food to undocumented residents in the state. The collective has handed out more than $3 million in private donations since April, when the city of Boston helped launch the fund.

Montes said she'd like to see similar efforts from the state.

"I don't see the state doing enough. I don't see our governor doing enough," she said. "People are dying and what the crisis of the COVID is doing is uncovering all these crises that the community were facing before."

In April, Gov. Charlie Baker and First Lady Lauren Baker announced the establishment of a statewide COVID-19 relief fund to distribute private donations to non-profits working within communities hardest hit by the virus, including immigrant communities. More than $30 million have been allocated, according to the fund's website.

But some immigrant advocates say writing checks to non-profits isn't enough — the state needs an official safety net for undocumented residents who, by some estimates, make up 5% of the state's workforce.

"It's sort of a shame that we have to step in and do all of this work when, you know, the state is supposed to be doing this."

Juan Pablo Blanco

"A lot of folks rely on community organizations like ours just on a daily basis, pandemic or not," said Juan Pablo Blanco, a coordinator with the MassUndocuFund, which has raised $1 million in donations to support undocumented state residents who are unemployed because of the pandemic.

The organization administering the fund, Mass. Jobs with Justice, isn't designed to be a direct service provider, but Blanco, who was formerly undocumented himself, said the group has adjusted during the crisis.

"It's sort of a shame that we have to step in and do all of this work when, you know, the state is supposed to be doing this," he said.

The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) released a survey in July looking at unemployment among immigrant households. Among those who responded from households with undocumented members, 83% reported losing a job and 82% reported not receiving unemployment benefits, mostly because of their immigration status.

Eva Millona, president and CEO of MIRA, said the state cannot fully recover until all working families, including undocumented immigrants, are supported.

"These families, the undocumented families, the mixed status families, are part of who we are," she said. "They're frontline workers, health care workers, agricultural workers, delivery truck drivers, restaurant workers and more. There is no recovery from COVID if all families are not part of the plan."

Back on her stoop in front of her apartment, Ada said she's burned through the savings she had before the pandemic. But still, she's hopeful.

"I try to looking for a job because this month was so hard," she said. "I tried to help my boyfriend. Now he's more better, so now I can looking for a job and support my family."

Until then, she said she's grateful for the support from her community.

Related:

Shannon Dooling Twitter Reporter
Shannon Dooling is an immigration reporter at WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station.

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