‘The working poor people are the ones paying the price’: Undocumented workers struggle during COVID-19

The Mexican Coalition, which is helping undocumented workers during this crisis.
Photo courtesy Mexican Coalition Facebok

Living as an undocumented worker is a challenge but during the COVID-19 crisis it has become nearly impossible.

Ligia Guallpa, executive director of the Worker’s Justice Project in Brooklyn and Jairo Guzman of the Mexican Coalition, 389 E. 150th, spoke with the Bronx Times about how undocumented workers are coping and issues they face.

Guallpa explained that many undocumented workers don’t have the luxury of being able to stay home. They deliver food, sweep streets, dig graves and often do jobs others won’t. Furthermore, many are now unemployed.

Ultimately, they are risking their lives to put food on the table and pay bills because they have no other option, she said.

“It’s very common for workers to have a lot of fear,” Guallpa said.

Not speaking English and worrying about being deported is always burdensome, but now with COVID-19, it seems the world is on their shoulders, she remarked.

“New York city as a whole is not built to deal with an epidemic like the coronavirus,” she said. “It reveals how broken the system is.”

The policies and laws are geared towards white collar people, Guallpa explained. The stimulus checks won’t even go to the undocumented because they don’t have a social security number.

Furthermore, many undocumented families do not have health insurance, so being able to afford treatment for COVID-19 is another thing on their minds.

“The working poor people are the ones paying the price,” Guallpa commented. “The current policies aren’t working.”

Guzman noted that this disease is affecting the Latino community more than any other ethnicity in the borough. He said according to the Mexican Consulate, there have been 130 undocumented Mexican cases of coronavirus in New York.

While he praised the medical professionals, he noted that most people do not realize undocumented workers are out there sacrificing their lives every day.

“No one is clapping for them at 7 p.m.,” he said.

He pointed out that because many of them struggle financially, they rent rooms in apartments with other families. Imagine sharing a home with 10 or more people, he stressed.

“Social distancing is nearly impossible for them,” Guzman explained. “So if one family gets sick, everyone gets sick.”

According to Guzman, some undocumented people are even afraid to go to the hospital because of their legal status. Many people have also been calling Guzman and his staff asking how they will pay for funerals.

They are worried about keeping a roof over their heads and not getting evicted, so burying someone is the furthest thing from their minds, he said.

“We’re very much concerned about how the families will survive,” Guzman stated. “It’s not just about putting food on the table. It’s making sure they don’t go homeless. We’re very much aware about the trauma that these families are experiencing.”

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