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.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, which recently issued a report on unemployment trends, immigrants are being laid off at higher rates than the US–born 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.“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 organization. “The 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.