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Nonprofit sets up relief fund for undocumented immigrants

  • Members of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center distribute food on Tuesday in front of Baystate Brightwood Health Center in Springfield. Contributed PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/3/2020 1:55:17 PM
Modified: 4/3/2020 1:55:04 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Last week, when President Donald Trump signed into law a $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, politicians on both sides of the aisle praised it as needed support for those struggling as COVID-19 continues to spread.

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, for example, said that while the bill wasn’t ideal — help for those suffering food insecurity was an omission the Worcester Democrat cited as most pressing — it would “help hard-working families get through this crisis.” U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, said the bill would “protect the health and financial security of all Americans in the face of an unprecedented crisis.”

However, the bill does leave out 10.7 million unauthorized immigrants that live in the country, according to 2016 figures from the Pew Research Center. The figure includes 250,000 people in Massachusetts, or 3.8 percent of the state’s population, according to Pew.

“Undocumented immigrant parents are terrified right now about how they will sustain their children and pay their rent without any income,” Jose Martinez, the vice president of the board of directors of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center in Northampton, said in a statement.

The non-profit center is one of many groups across the country attempting to plug the large gap in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act. The group has set up a relief fund in an effort to raise $50,000 for undocumented workers, and in the meantime has organized food distribution events for those in need.

“So many of our members and other low-wage immigrant workers have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 crisis and there are absolutely no financial resources open to them,” said Margaret Sawyer, a co-director at the center. “Without the possibility of applying for ongoing unemployment insurance, families need support from the community to get through this time.”

Sawyer said the Pioneer Valley Workers Center is getting phone calls from many immigrant workers who are struggling to make ends meet.

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls from people that they either can’t pay their rent, or if they pay their rent they’ll be spending all the money we have,” she said.

The organization’s new “Undocu-Worker Solidarity Fund 413” is meant to assist undocumented workers in Western Massachusetts through small grants. It is one of several responses across the state to offer similar aid.

“Unemployed immigrants are so desperate to support their families, many are being hired now to join COVID deep cleaning crews, scrubbing surfaces in businesses and grocery stores that likely contain the virus,” Martinez said. “These jobs face grave danger and insufficient protection. Together we need to organize and also support one another.”

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