REPORT: Illegal Immigrants Face Pandemic With Mass Job Losses and No Safety Net

WGBH reports undocumented workers have long filled thousands of jobs in Massachusetts on construction sites, in restaurant kitchens and on cleaning crews. And like their coworkers, many have been laid off as efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus bring everyday life to a standstill. But there’s one crucial difference: Undocumented immigrants can’t access unemployment benefits.

Three people who call the Boston area home, but have no legal status, shared their fears with WGBH News about surviving without a paycheck and, during a worsening public health crisis, being fearful of accessing medical help.

One East Boston woman said she had come from El Salvador with her two children after her father was murdered. The woman, who did not want to be identified by name, recently lost her job as a cook when the restaurant she worked for closed because of the coronavirus. Her husband, brother and sister-in law lost their restaurant work as well, she said. Because they are undocumented, none of them can collect unemployment.

“We don’t know whether the restaurants are closed for two or three weeks,” she said in Spanish. “That’s what the owner is saying, but really we don’t know with any certainty when we’ll start working. And that’s really worrying, because how is the family going to eat? And the bills are still coming, the rent that we have to pay. This is really worrying us, not knowing what to do.”

Her voice wavered as she described watching people leave supermarkets with stockpiles of food. She pleaded for those with money to think of those without.

“Think a little about the people who go to the supermarkets and don’t have the same resources as them to buy two full shopping carts at once,” she said. “Think of these people who do not have enough money.”

Marion Davis of the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) said that the biggest concern facing most undocumented immigrants is access to food.

There are no official resources designed for undocumented people, and advocates are scrambling to gather donations for charity funds. Boston’s COVID-19 resource guide for immigrants “regardless of immigration status” refers those needing food to the nonprofit Project Bread, which has a FoodSource Hotline. It gives statewide referrals to locations that provide food support, and the organization says it can provide information in 160 different languages.

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