Who Is Aiding Undocumented Families During COVID-19 Crisis?

Who Is Aiding Undocumented Families  During COVID-19 Crisis? (Photo: Reza Estakhrian/Getty Images)

While people wait for their stimulus checks to arrive or their unemployment applications to be approved, there are many young people and families that won’t be getting any monetary support from the federal government because of their immigration status.

So what are their options? For now, states and charities are stepping in.

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom announced this week $75 million in statewide Disaster Relief Assistance fund for immigrant families impacted by COVID-19. Newsom also mentioned that philanthropic partners are committed to raising an additional $50 million to support undocumented Californians. (There are approximately two million undocumented people in the state, according to the Pew Research Center.)  

Before Newsom's announcement, organizations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area had already mobilized to help undocumented families. Mission Assent Fund, MAF, an organization in San Francisco, has raised close to $8 million to help undocumented families, college students and gig workers suffering financially because of COVID-19. MAF also launched a coronavirus resource finder tool that matches individuals to resources. El Centro Legal De La Raza in Oakland announced OUR Fund, Oakland Undocumented Relief Fund, to support Oakland immigrant workers who’ve lost their jobs.

Some teachers in Oakland announced they are donating some, or all, of their stimulus checks to undocumented families, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. If people feel inspired to do the same, a coalition of public schools and non-profit organizations have launched The Stimulus Pledge, where people can choose to donate whatever percentage of their stimulus checks to immigrant families.

YR Media spoke with Jose Quiñonez, CEO of Mission Asset Fund, about how California families can qualify for their grant, how the resource finder tool works and the politics around government aid to undocumented families.

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

YR Media: Can you tell me about your company's fundraiser? 

Jose Quiñonez: It became more evident and apparent that immigrant families and families with ITIN numbers were not going to be able to access any federal relief, so we started a rapid response fund to help those individuals — families and undocumented families who are left out from receiving financial assistance. They need to know that we're here to support them and to really showcase this injustice, this inequality that we're creating. And then we could push our political leaders to rectify this problem. 

YR: MAF has multiple funds, who can apply for those?

JQ:  We have been able to raise over $2 million to help college students who are also feeling the brunt of this crisis with a $500 grant. Then we also have another fund that is geared towards gig workers, people that work in the creative economy and in the L.A. County area, and we were able to raise $2.5 million. In the Bay Area, we have another fund for undocumented families and we've been able to raise a little bit over $3 million to help families — you know, people that have no access to relief from our government. 

YR: Are you surprised by how much you have raised? 

JQ: You know, I’m not. What I'm thinking about is, you know, the dire financial pain that many of us are going through. It's very apparent that one day to the next, one week to the next, people's lives were just thrown in chaos. I want us to sort of step in and be able to provide some relief. I expect more from philanthropy. This is a moment that defines who we are as a country, as a nation, as people and for us to walk away from the people that are in the shadows and people that cannot get relief, I mean, what does it say about the country that we are? 

YR: How can families qualify for a grant?

JQ: We're basically asking questions like: Do you have an ITIN number? Do you have a social security number? Do you expect to get relief from the federal aid package? Are you making more than $100,0000? (That's the cut off the federal government is using.) We're asking simple questions like that. We [also] want to provide people access to information that they can look through and see if they may be eligible for other help. We want to make sure that whoever is getting help from us can get information about other sources of support.

YR: Undocumented families have been left out of the stimulus package and out of all conversations in relation to federal aid. Why do you think that is? 

JQ: Yeah. A Republican senator said that [aiding immigrants] might be a luxury item in his estimation. I was struck by that, because here is a moment where we can clearly see who are the people that are working. People working on the farms picking lettuce, making sure that they're properly wrapped, people that are restocking the shelves at the grocery store, even the people that are delivering food to our home. I mean, these are essential workers, so why would you consider [them] to be a luxury item? I was really upset. Immigrant workers have always been an afterthought. They have always been ignored. They're always being pushed to the side and forcing them in the shadows. That's always been the case in America. We need to advocate to include them. We need to advocate for help and assistance because their labor is actually essential to who we are as a society.

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