COVID-19 Heroes: Coalition of Immigration Services Steps Up to Distribute Crucial Funds to Undocumented Workers in Massachusetts

Nicole Rojas
May 1, 2020 - 12:33

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When it became clear that Massachusetts’ undocumented community would not get the help they needed during the coronavirus pandemic, a coalition of immigration organizations joined forces to create the Massachusetts UndocuFund. The disaster relief fund delivers financial aid to the hands of undocumented workers and their families. 

MassUndocuFund, which was founded in March, is a collaboration of three founding organizations, Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, Matahari Women Workers’ Center and One Fair Wage. Lily Huang, the co-executive director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, explained to The North Star that the fund was inspired by a similar initiative by the North Bay Jobs with Justice in California. 

“We heard from North Bay Jobs With Justice of the original UndocuFund that was created for undocumented workers who lost their homes and jobs after the North Bay wildfires in Sonoma County,” she said. “They raised $6 million for undocumented workers and their families. It was really inspiring, so we wanted to do something in Massachusetts.”

Huang noted that she and fellow steering committee members Monique Nguyen, the executive director of Matahari Women Workers’ Center, and Yamila Ruiz, national high road director for One Fair Wage, worked with different types of workers and knew of the gaps in support for undocumented people. “We wanted to create a kind of catch all for folks who wouldn’t qualify for unemployment or qualify for the funds that national organizations have.” 

To do that, the fund has created a process by which applicants can apply to receive $300. 

Applicants can apply for funds online or they can go to a local worker center that partners with MassUndocuFund to fill out an online application. Once received, an intake coordinator gives the application to volunteers, who have one-on-one organizing conservations to help applicants fill out an intake form. Once that’s done, the application is reviewed and, if it’s approved, a check is mailed out. 

Huang said that the group is being extra careful with how they handle applicants’ information, from limiting the number of outside volunteers to creating a system that is safe and encrypted. 

“We want to make sure that people feel like the fund is a safe place for them to access and share their data,” Nguyen said about limiting volunteers. “So we’re trying to take volunteers that we only trust to help us move the money.” 

As of April 28, MassUndocuFund had raised at least $448,000, with at least two-thirds of the funding coming from individuals, Huang told TNS. Huang and Nguyen emphasized how critical it is that people honor the crucial work undocumented people do in this country and to understand how everyone benefits from their labor. 

“For us, it’s about a helping aid for immigrant families, but also this time a small token of our respect for them,” Nguyen told TNS. “So, it’s not just charity, it’s active solidarity and we are hoping to transform this aid into something that’s long lasting past the pandemic.”

She continued, “After all of this is over, we have to also fight for them to get some sort of access to immigration protections and stopping the deportations of their families.

Government Aid to Undocumented During the Pandemic

Huang told TNS that it is crucial that the government help undocumented workers during this time. 

“I think we pay our taxes in the hopes that the government is going to be there to take care of us in a disaster like this and it’s clear that undocumented workers are frontline workers, are essential workers and…you know have been part of our community,” Huang said. She noted that “thousands upon thousands” of undocumented workers have not been helped and it is only now being recognized that this community deserves to be supported. 

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker (R) acknowledged early in April that the state’s undocumented community faces “a giant problem” and is in dire need of support. Baker said that state officials partly had undocumented immigrants in mind when they established the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund, WBUR reported.

“One of the main reasons for doing this was because we knew we had a big community out there of people who weren’t going to qualify for any of these benefit programs and we wanted to have a vehicle through which we can make resources available to them,” Baker said in a Facebook Live interview with El Mundo Boston. 

Not all state governments have responded in the same way. California Governor Gavin Newsom announced on April 16 that the state would give $500 to each of the undocumented workers living in the Golden State who were ineligible for aid from the federal government, according to CBS News. Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declined to commit similar assistance citing the state’s financial problems. 

How to Help

Huang and Nguyen told TNS that the best way to help their efforts is by donating on Massachusetts UndocuFund’s website. There are two ways to donate to MassUndocuFund: individuals can donate via ActBlue or they can donate via check. To donate, click here.

TNS’ Other COVID-19 Heroes

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At the end of each story we publish about the coronavirus, we are now sharing the following information:

Coronavirus 411

Coronavirus, officially named SARS-CoV-2 but also known as COVID-19, is a novel virus that causes a number of respiratory illnesses, including lung lesions and pneumonia. The virus spreads easily from person to person through the air when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. 

COVID-19, which originated in Wuhan, China, has spread to 187 countries. More than 3.27 million people around the world have become infected and more than 233,000 people have died. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. President Donald Trump declared the COVID-19 outbreak a national emergency on March 13. Less than two weeks later, on March 26, the United States surpassed China in the number of COVID-19 cases. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 can take between two to 14 days to appear. The CDC recommends calling your doctor if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop symptoms, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing. If you also experience persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse and bluish lips or face, seek medical attention immediately. 

In order to keep yourself and others safe, be sure to wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing and avoid touching your face. The CDC is recommending that gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled for the next eight weeks. Click here for information on how to prepare for a quarantine. 

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.

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