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Congress slams door on undocumented immigrants for COVID relief

Katie Harp

Democrats in Congress have become divided on whether someone’s immigration status determines receiving COVID-19 stimulus checks. Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters are two of the eight Democrats in the Senate who supported an amendment to the budget during last week's marathon voting session which would prohibit undocumented immigrants from receiving stimulus checks.

The uncertainty of the pandemic has hit hard in immigrant families— especially Latino families. Many immigrants continue to live and work on the front line of the pandemic. Buenos Vecinos is a volunteer-led group that provides a financial, academic, and emotional support system for Latino families in Washtenaw County. Charo Ledon is the co-founder of the group.

Ledon emphasized that financial stress has always been present in the Latino community, but the pandemic has made the hardship worse. Helping community members pay rent has been the top priority for Buenos Vecinos.

“Rent is what’s really worrisome because if you don't have a place to live, then all bets are off. I mean, everything else comes tumbling down,” Ledon said.

And many of the people Buenos Vecinos is helping, Ledon said, are on the brink of homelessness. Although the CARES Act established an eviction moratorium which has been extended to March 31, 2021, Ledon said there are leasing companies refusing to renew leases if tenants are behind or at some point got behind on rent.

Government assistance is few and far between for undocumented immigrants, but even if resources do exist, it is hard for them to access themselves.

“Some speak some English, some not so much, which makes it hard to access some of the assistance if they call. And the only voice they hear is in English, they're more likely to just hang up,” Ledon said.

There is concern that mixed-status families— where one parent has an immigration status and the other doesn’t—  aren't eligible for stimulus checks or unemployment. Officials say those families are eligible for the checks.

But Ledon says its “embarrassing” and “sad” that the United States isn't taking care of undocumented immigrants.

“They're not getting the assistance that their next-door neighbor is getting or their coworkers. And so it really is excluding people who are working hard. And just because they don't have documentation. They still have to live and pay rent,” Ledon said.

Ledon said that people are in survival mode, and when the pandemic ends, there will be long lasting psychological harm in communities that are struggling. She reiterated that these families have come to the United States to better their lives and their children’s lives, but current policies are making it extremely difficult for them to do so

“There are just lots of well-meaning, hardworking folks that are here because back in their country, things were not tolerable. I mean, who wants to leave their home to go elsewhere where it's cold and they don't speak the language and start from scratch? People don't take that decision lightly,” Ledon said. “And they want to participate in the society they really want to. But in some ways, they are prevented from doing so.”

An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly that members of mixed-status families are ineligible for stimulus checks.

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Catherine Nouhan.

Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 9 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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