Report: Undocumented immigrants at risk of losing work, pay

Policy center says lack of benefits leaves workers in peril 

NEARLY HALF OF the undocumented immigrants employed in the state, an estimated 55,000 workers, were at risk of losing their job or losing pay because their workplace had to close during the COVID-19 shutdowns, according to a report issued Monday 

The analysis by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, a liberal-leaning policy think tank, said workers without legal status in the country are disproportionately employed in sectors that have experienced widespread closures due to the pandemic. These include jobs that require close customer interactions, such as those at restaurants, hotels, and barbershops.  

Undocumented workers are not eligible for unemployment, food assistance, or other programs offered to US citizens and legal residents, including the federal stimulus package that offered up to $1,200 to workers.  

The report said an additional 16,000 unauthorized immigrant workers are at high risk of contracting coronavirus because they’re employed at hospitals, supermarkets, and other essential jobs that remained open during the pandemic. For these workers, the report said, the risk of getting sick and being home without work poses huge financial concern.  

The report assumed that undocumented workers are distributed throughout various industries at the same rate as all workers. “But the actual numbers of undocumented workers in the high-risk industries are likely higher, because immigrants and particularly undocumented immigrants tend to work in low-paid, service sector industries at higher rates than the general workforce, according to the report. 

According to the Migration Policy Institute, which recently issued a report on unemployment trends, immigrants are being laid off at higher rates than the USborn workforce during the pandemic.  

The Mass. Budget report highlighted state legislation that would offer financial relief to people who hold Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) — some of whom are undocumented. Workers can get an ITIN number with a foreign passport. 

The bill, filed by Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Rep. Christine Barber, would provide $1,200 stimulus checks — similar to those provided by the Federal CARES Act — to ITIN-holders; provide funds to community organizations supporting immigrant families; and allow ITIN holders to claim the Earned income Tax Credit. Mass Budget said the bill would benefit about 57,000 adults and children in households with ITIN-holders. Undocumented immigrants who have ITINs contribute about $185 million per year in state and local taxes to Massachusetts, according to the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy.   

In Western Massachusetts, Northampton-based Pioneer Valley Workers Center has assisted 450 recently unemployed undocumented immigrants with $300 grants after raising money for what the group dubbed the Undocu-worker Solidarity Fund. Applicants, many of which are newly unemployed farm workers and restaurant workers, can apply more than once. “Immigrants pay bills and they pay taxes, something they don’t get back,” said Hodaliz Borrayes, an organizer with the organization.   

The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy coalition says there are at least 173,000 people who are undocumented in Massachusetts.  

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

This report puts hard numbers on what we’ve seen for over two months now. COVID-19 devastated immigrant communities, and undocumented and mixed-status families in particular are going hungry and struggling to keep a roof over their heads,” said Marion Davis, communications director for the organizationThe need is overwhelming. Advocates simply can’t keep up. And families who got $300 or even $500 in April have long spent it, but may not be able to get additional aid.”   

Jacqueline, a 33-year-old Waltham resident who left her home country when she was a child, told legislators at a recent immigration advocacy day that she has been paying taxes since she was 21 with an ITIN number.  

She recently lost her job and is expecting her first child. She also recently lost the room she was renting in an apartment because she complained about COVID-19 hygiene concerns and her landlord threatened her physically. “I am a month away from having my first child, and I don’t have a safe home for my baby,” she said. “It is sad for us undocumented people who work. We pay taxes, we contribute to the economy of this country, and today I cannot even give a roof to my son.”