Bronx Legal Services helps the undocumented community of the Bronx

Alena Aguilar, LMSW social worker, Family Immigration Unit of Bronx Legal Services.
Courtesy of Bronx Legal Services

Living as an undocumented immigrant is a challenge, with COVID-19 adding new hurdles including stress, job loss, sickness and death.

With that knowledge in mind, Bronx Legal Services, which is under Legal Services of New York, has stepped up and provided help.

“When the pandemic hit NYC, my social work colleagues across LSNYC and myself immediately recognized the need for financial relief most if not all of our clients were going to need,” said Alena Aguilar, LMSW social worker, Family Immigration Unit of Bronx Legal Services. “This was especially true for our most vulnerable client population, undocumented individuals and families who would not be able to benefit from any form of government relief or assistance.”

Recognizing this need, the organization quickly took action proposing an emergency COVID-19 client fund to upper management. Once it was approved, in less than three weeks they created and implemented this fund.

To date, they have received approximately 159 applications from undocumented individuals and families with a third being from residents in the Bronx. Fortunately, they have been able to provide cash assistance after raising $101,000 in funds due to constant Facebook posts, emails and persistence to friends and families to donate.

Aguilar, 34, has been a social worker for six years and this probably the most challenging time of her career. Her clients have increased, people are hungry, worried about getting evicted and are at their wits’ end.

“We’ve been hearing a lot of stories from our clients,” she said. “I think it has brought more awareness to mental health. I try to make people focus on positive things. We’re doing the best that we can for each one of our clients.”

Many undocumented people work 80 to 90 hours a week, not only to provide for their family here, but in their native country as well. Furthermore, since the federal government won’t help them, it’s another burden to carry and they are risking their lives going to work during the pandemic.

Aguilar told the Bronx Times that even if her clients are eligible for unemployment, many don’t speak English or have access or know how to navigate the Internet.

Undocumented immigrants don’t have the luxury of ordering food via Ubereats every day. Many have no idea where their next meal is coming from and often wait on line for hours at a food pantry only to get nothing.

“The Bronx prior to COVID, food has always been a concern in the neighborhood,” she stressed.

Eligible clients of Bronx Legal Services can get up to $350 for individuals and families, up to $700

“They’re really excited. It’s a large relief them,” she said. “There’s also some sadness because it’s temporary and it only goes so far. For me it’s been extra rewarding since I live in the Bronx and know how important it is for my community.”

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