Like many people trying to subsist in Washington state right now with so much of the economy at a standstill, work has dried up for Jose. But because he’s an undocumented immigrant, he has no ability to apply for unemployment benefits and won’t receive a stimulus check from the federal government.
Jose is 59 years old and originally from Mexico City. He shares an apartment with friends in Burien and has been here for 14 years. He regularly sends money home to his two sons in Mexico. KNKX is only using his first name because of his undocumented status.
Jose worked as a gardener and a carpenter, but he has no income right now because of the state’s strict social distancing measures and stay-at-home order aimed at limiting the spread of the deadly coronavirus. He said he’s worried about his health — and his finances.
“Because I can’t work, I have no money to pay my bills,” he said. “And I can’t help my family in Mexico.”
But nonprofit organizations are stepping up to fill the gap left by the lack of a safety net for undocumented immigrants, many of whom pay taxes in the U.S. Casa Latina, a nonprofit in Seattle, has provided Jose and other immigrants with money to help cover rent.
Casa Latina normally runs a day worker center to connect immigrant laborers with jobs such as moving, gardening and home improvement projects. Executive director Marcos Martinez said they’ve had to close the day worker center because of the governor’s stay-at-home order. Instead, the group has quickly shifted into fundraising mode to be able to provide rental assistance and cash assistance so that the workers can buy groceries, he said.
With help from grants from local foundations, Casa Latina and other community organizations “are able to help the most vulnerable, and especially people who don’t have access to unemployment insurance and other kinds of social safety nets, so that we can provide some immediate relief to families and individuals,” Martinez said.
So far, Martinez says, Casa Latina has been able to provide assistance to about 170 individuals or families. He said many of the workers are quite vulnerable right now because they lack health insurance and some are homeless.
Seattle Foundation recently awarded grants to groups that help immigrants through its COVID-19 Response Fund, including $100,000 for Casa Latina. Martinez said Casa Latina also has received a grant from Group Health Foundation.
But Martinez said philanthropy only goes so far, and he is pushing for policy changes so that undocumented immigrants, “who contribute greatly to the state’s economy,” can have access to social safety net programs in the future.
KNKX’s Adrian Florez provided translation help for this story.