Stimulus checks for the coronavirus pandemic won’t be sent to my family

By Yazmín Franco, Special to CalMatters

The $2 trillion stimulus package will offer relief to many Americans affected by the economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic, but the checks meant to ease the financial hardships won’t help families like mine.

For the past few weeks, my mom has spent her days exhaustingly scrubbing grocery store shopping carts, tables and restrooms with disinfectant to protect customers. Her employer does not provide face masks, but she managed to find gloves and covers her mouth and nose with a scarf from home. Although she is on the front line of defense six days a week, she earns the minimum wage. 

My dad, who raised his family on farmworker wages, lost his most recent job as a landscaper. He has no savings and no health insurance. He is diabetic and pays $300 a month for insulin because he is ineligible for federal subsidies to cover his medical costs. Both he and my mom are undocumented immigrants. 

As a diabetic, my dad is at risk for life-threatening complications should he contract the coronavirus, a prospect that frightens me so much I cannot sleep.

Our family has lived and worked in California for almost two decades. We call  this place home. Shortly before Sept. 11, 2001, my parents brought me here with the hopes of citizenship and a better life. I was 10 years old. The terrorist attack and the wars that followed led to a change in laws and attitudes toward immigrants, and my family has lived in the shadows ever since.

Due to a backlog of applications, we’ve waited almost two decades for our permanent residency applications to move forward. But life did not stand still.

As I neared high school graduation, President Barack Obama announced the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program known as DACA. Its coverage allowed me to attend the University of California, graduate with honors and hold public policy internships which led to a job working for the state of California. 

We recently learned that our applications were finally moving forward. But then the coronavirus pandemic caused federal immigration offices to close, further delaying our applications.

Because they are undocumented, my parents have worked back-straining, low-wage jobs even though they are both university educated scientists. They pay taxes but are ineligible for many programs those taxes fund. Their story is like that of many other undocumented families in America. 

According to the Brookings Institution, there are between 10.5 million and 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country. In 2018, Pew Research calculated that they make up about 5% of the national workforce. They do many jobs that native-born Americans do not want to do. Some are working in the fields right now to provide for their families. They work on farms, in construction and in restaurants, and as maids and cleaners. They feed America. They build homes for Americans. They wash dishes for Americans. They make beds and clean toilets for Americans. They pay taxes that fund Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

The federal government does not mind accepting the billions of dollars that undocumented immigrants contribute in taxes each year. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimated in a 2017 report that undocumented immigrants contribute $11.7 billion in taxes annually. Yet, the federal government seems willing to make the distinction about who receives a $1,200 stimulus check and who does not. Undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families, often among the lowest paid workers in this country, will not be helped.

Like their American neighbors many undocumented residents have been sent home from work to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. They, too, are worried about how to pay rent and bills, and how to put food on their table. 

Just like Americans they have to shelter in place and prepare for the worst, but they don’t have the funds to stockpile essentials. Nor will they receive the unemployment benefits or individual checks from the stimulus package. 

Undocumented residents need help so they can be part of the solution, so that they can safely keep their families home and help slow the spread of COVID-19. By disqualifying nonresidents and those without a Social Security number from receiving a stimulus check, the federal government is ensuring that the country takes longer to recover from the pandemic. 

The coronavirus created a humanitarian crisis. Yet the federal government has managed to make its relief bill into an anti-immigrant measure seeking to mark the distinction between citizens, legal immigrants and those who are undocumented. 

The coronavirus does not care if you have U.S. citizenship or not. The coronavirus does not discriminate. Efforts to help us all survive it should not either. 

_____

Yazmín Franco is a political scientist who has worked for the California Legislature and plans to enroll in a Master of Arts program in International Relations, [email protected]

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