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Protesters urge state senators to fund excluded workers

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Nearly a year after undocumented domestic and immigrant workers were excluded from the $2.2 trillion federal CARES Act, nine Long Island organizations rallied together Feb. 25 to call for passage of legislation that would provide aid to them at the state level.

In front of the Walgreens on Front Street in Hempstead, drivers and pedestrians stopped short to check out a massive banner that read: “11 Months No Relief, Gov Cuomo Will You Take Action?”

The statewide campaign #FundExcludedWorkers called on New York State senators to act immediately to provide aid to “excluded workers.”

The campaign started last April after distribution of the first federal stimulus check left out nearly 11 million undocumented workers and families nationwide, who also do not qualify for unemployment insurance. Volunteers from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Long Island Jobs with Justice, Workplace Project, SEPA Mujer, Haitian American Family Association of Long Island, New York Immigration Coalition, Freeport Workers Justice Center, Rural and Migrant Ministries, and Centro Corazon de Maria shared their experiences to make clear the crisis that excluded workers are facing.

Nearly three-quarters of a million undocumented immigrants live in New York.

Brittany Bye, SEPA Mujer’s community organizer, 29, said she wanted to show her support for excluded workers who did not receive stimulus checks last March and December and are now struggling to pay their rent and provide food for their families.

“Essential workers need to be included,” she said. “We need more people to support the immigrant communities so they could get what they deserve and what is human dignity.”

Sara, 34, a member of SEPA Mujer who did not wish to give her last name, said in Spanish, “We have to keep fighting, and there are many organizations that are here fighting to lift our voices so we’re heard, and we all have to help to live through this pandemic.”

When Sara and her family contracted Covid-19, they had to quarantine for a month and could not work. Their immigrant status barred them from collecting unemployment and qualifying for a stiulmus check. Sara and her family had to borrow money from relatives to survive financially.

Nadia Marin-Molina, 51, co-executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said New York needs to follow California’s lead. Last April, the state announced a $75 million Disaster Relief Fund that supports undocumented Californians impacted by Covid-19 who are ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits and disaster relief because of their immigration status.

State Sen. Kevin Thomas, a Democrat from Levittown who represents Hempstead, has not taken a position yet on aid for undocumented immigrants. “He didn’t take a position all of last year, and he still hasn’t taken a position this year, which is really terrible,” Marin-Molina said. “There are so many people in his district who are immigrants and undocumented, food banks and people who are living in poverty.”

William Lina, 46, a member of Freeport Workers Justice Center, said in Spanish, “It’s hard because we have to figure out how to provide for rent and food. That’s why we’re here using our voices, so the governor creates a fund for excluded workers.” For 13 years, he worked as a security guard and construction worker and has been unemployed for eight months.

Ani Halasz, executive director of Long Island Jobs with Justice, 35, said, “From what I know, none of the Long Island senators, Republican or Democrat, have taken an open position in support of the bill. I think many of them like to stand behind the ‘I’ll review it, and I want to learn more about it,’ but we don’t have time for that anymore.”

At the end of the protest, Patrick Young, the downstate political director of the New York Immigration Coalition, urged protesters to call their state senators and tell them to vote for New York Senate Bill S5250, which now sits in the Labor Committee.

The Rev. Bill Brisotti, 78, retired pastor with the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said he is calling his state representative.

“The senators have heard about this legislation, and if they haven’t, they haven’t been paying attention because the question of what is New York State going to do for undocumented workers is something they need to be thinking about,” Marin-Molina said. “They need to be proposing solutions or supporting the solutions.”

The legislation must be included in the New York State budget, due April 1, for it to be enacted. The nine organizations and their members plan to call their state representatives every Friday to remind them to vote on the legislation.