They rip roofs off houses under repair, wash dishes in restaurants and pick fruit and vegetables, among countless other jobs, working 12- and 16-hour shifts for poverty-level wages with no benefits. They often live in tiny illegal basement apartments, or in multi-family houses that are stretched beyond capacity, or, in some cases, in the woods along our parkways.
They are undocumented immigrants, existing in America’s shadows, afraid to speak up for themselves for fear that they might be deported to their home countries. Many pay taxes — the IRS estimates that 6 million undocumented immigrants file individual income tax returns — but they receive little in the way of services or benefits.
That has been the case even during the coronavirus pandemic that has devastated New York and the nation. Undocumented immigrant workers were excluded last year from the $2.2 trillion federal CARES Act, which provided aid to struggling businesses and most American workers. States could offer pandemic aid to these workers — and California did, setting aside $75 million for disaster relief aid for them. The California Department of Social Services selected 12 nonprofit groups to help undocumented immigrants apply for disaster funds, amounting to $500 per adult, or a total of $1,000 per household.
New York, however, has not provided a similar aid package to undocumented immigrants. The statewide campaign #FundExcludedWorkers is calling on lawmakers in Albany to do just that. A measure now sits in the State Senate Labor Committee, but it has gone nowhere.
We’re calling on New York lawmakers — in particular, our Long Island Democratic senators — to push for and pass this legislation as part of the state budget, due April 1.
Providing aid to the people most in need, who so often labor in the jobs that put them most at risk for contracting Covid-19, would be the right thing to do. Our lawmakers should set politics aside and summon their better angels to ensure that this measure passes.