We all need pandemic relief. Undocumented families aren't getting it

Washington state should provide financial help for undocumented immigrants. Without it, many of us face the unthinkable.

a man works in a kitchen

The coronavirus pandemic and economic recession has hit Washington's undocumented workers harder than most. With no pathway for economic relief or federal aid, some are asking the state to step in and help. (Alex Cossio/AP)

When the coronavirus hit, it hit us all. We all had to sacrifice something to flatten the curve. However, unlike many Washington families, undocumented families are making sacrifices while again being left out of government relief efforts.

I know. As an undocumented person, I see firsthand how this is hurting our community. Friends of mine have borrowed money for rent. My neighbors have been trying to find one-off jobs for some money. The pandemic is weighing on us all and, without support, we could be pushed further into crisis, with no hope of escape.

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We need the governor and Legislature to enact a relief fund for my family and the tens of thousands of undocumented families in Washington state. Like many of you, we’ve worked hard and for years paid into the system that issued your coronavirus stimulus check. If our governor and Legislature want to support all Washingtonians, including immigrant families, they must create a fund to fill in the glaring gaps left by the federal government.

I love my community. My wife and I have lived in Redmond for nearly 20 years, and for my first 12 years in Washington state, I worked in kitchens at a local Italian grill and a country club while my wife maintained our home. I sent part of my paychecks to my three kids and two grandkids in Acapulco. We’re used to living paycheck to paycheck, and until recently we’ve been able to get by. But, in 2012, I was badly injured at work in an accident where I slipped and fell, which required spinal fusion surgery on my L2 and L5 vertebrae. It took two years to get the surgery — in the meantime, I was using a wheelchair — and then two more years of physical therapy to recover my strength to walk. Thanks to my state Labor & Industries claim, I ‘ve been a able to survive while working to get healthy, but my doctor says I still require additional hip and knee surgeries before I can go back to work.

I want to improve my health and return to the life I had before my accident so I can continue to take care of my family. I have every intention of overcoming my injuries and beginning to work again. Until the pandemic hit, that seemed a real possibility. But now, without extra support, my wife and I face the unthinkable. I believe that everyone, no matter their circumstances, deserves protection from a crisis as disruptive as this pandemic, and I hope the governor and Legislature believe the same.

The stimulus check and expanded unemployment compensation are helpful policies to those who can access them. Unfortunately, even though my wife and I have both paid taxes the entire time we’ve lived here, we cannot access tax-funded benefits to survive this crisis. I'm not aspiring to be a millionaire. I'm just trying to survive day to day, get healthy again and pay my rent and bills, so my family isn’t pushed into homelessness.

I know there are so many families like mine, with various documentation statuses, who are understandably scared to share their names and story, but I’m speaking out because I want the governor and members of the Legislature to know my name. I want them to know that I’m willing to take this risk to fight for a relief fund. I ask in return that they use their power to enact it for the health and safety of all Washington families like mine.

The coronavirus has made our already precarious situation worse. My L&I claim was recently closed, and I’m still trying to get surgeries I can’t afford. Meanwhile, my landlord is demanding the full rent, on which we’re now months behind.

I’ve taken all the steps I can to try and pay my rent. I have asked for, and received, help from social service organizations and churches, but my landlord has turned away the funds and told me she intends to evict me once the moratorium is lifted. (Community leaders like Mirya Muñoz, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul of Seattle/King County, has gone public to say that her organization, through its Centro Rendu Latino programs and volunteer-led rental assistance ministry, has seen this happening more and more during this pandemic.) My family’s stability is always my priority, and so I’m doing everything in my power, including starting a GoFundMe page, to protect that.

But we should not be relying on crowdsourcing to fill in federal gaps. Our government has the means and power to support all of us during a pandemic, especially those among us who are most vulnerable.

Like so many people, I’m just eager to get back to normal. I want to pay my rent and buy groceries. I want to get back to worrying about what I’ll cook my wife for dinner, instead of worrying whether we can afford food.

I want to get back to work to help my community and go back to Sunday mass. And I want to know my immigrant neighbors can get the same support through a relief fund.

The only way we can get to that future is if our government steps up and enacts a relief fund so that all families, whether they are citizens or immigrants, documented or not, can stay housed and safe through this scary time. We know the governor and Legislature have the power and, I hope, for my family’s sake, they have the courage.

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About the Authors & Contributors

Antonio Salazar

Antonio Salazar

Antonio Salazar has been a resident in Washington with his wife for 20 years.