Survey shows impact of pandemic on immigrant households

Three-quarters of households reported coronavirus job loss

A NEW STUDY demonstrates that immigrant families in the state are facing the same toll from the coronavirus disruption of the economy as most working-class Americans — but their problems are exacerbated by exclusion from crucial safety-net programs and stimulus payments. 

The survey, conducted from July 2 to 27 by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalitionincluded 433 respondents from across the Commonwealth who speak 16 languages. About 150 of those household have undocumented members. It is the first effort of its kind to look at a wide breadth of issues affecting immigrants during the pandemic, including housing, financial, and food insecurity.   

From Boston to Pittsfield, Lawrence to Seekonk, the survey paints a picture of what the pandemic has been like for immigrants. Respondents span the full range of citizenship and immigration statuses, including refugees, students, and immigrants brought to the US as children who have legal status (21 percent); households with green card holders (60 percent); and households reporting at least one undocumented family member (37 percent) 

Threequarters of households said they have experienced some kind of job loss, with over 75 percent saying they have not received any kind of federal stimulus funds because they have at least one person in their household who is undocumented. 

Such is the case for R.G.an undocumented survivor of domestic abuse from Guatemala. CommonWealth agreed not to publish her name due to safety concerns. R.G. has created a new life in Waltham with a partner, also undocumented, and their child. She was working in a restaurant before the pandemic, while her significant other worked in landscaping. All that came to a halt due to business closures.  

R.G. and her partner tested positive for COVID-19 and were unable to acquire federal assistance while they remained unemployed and ill. The family was able to get $500 through a local nonprofit, and have relied on food assistance from a local church. Even as they have begun to acquire a few shifts here and there at their respective jobs, theyre worried. “We’ve been told we need to pay the rent, and we’re worried we’ll have no place to live,” she said.  

Undocumented immigrants like R.G. use Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers to pay taxes, but they are unable to access the federal stimulus payment of $1,200.  Among undocumented respondents, 82 percent didn’t get unemployment, and 65 percent said that one worker was disqualified from receiving because of immigration status.

Since the start of the pandemic, it has been clear that immigrant communities in Massachusetts, especially black and Latinx immigrants, have felt both the health and the economic impacts particularly hard. As of July 29, Latinos accounted for 28 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases, 2.3 times their share of the population. 

Several immigrant-rich communities have become COVID-19 hotspots – most notably Chelsea, with more than five times the statewide infection rate, and Lawrence and Brockton, with triple the statewide rate. The restaurant, cleaning and health care sectors, which employ large numbers of immigrants, have struggled to reopen after long shutdowns. As a result, immigrants are missing rent payments and are at high risk of displacement. Three-quarters of households reported at least one job loss during the pandemic. 

“If you overlay the data on neighborhoods that have been disproportionately impacted, you see black and brown immigrants,” said Marty Martinez, Chief of Health and Human Services in Boston during a Zoom webinar about the survey results. 

“This survey shows that immigrants in Massachusetts are immensely resilient and resourceful, but many are facing impossible odds,” said Eva Millona, president of MIRA. “Jobs just aren’t coming back fast enough. Unpaid bills are stacking up. Without support from local food pantries, many families would be going hungry. And fear of immigration consequences is making some immigrants who sorely need help too afraid to seek it.” 

Food insecurity is heightened among respondents, with 59 percent of households reporting they don’t have enough to eat. If the household has an undocumented family member, that number jumps to 78 percent. Over 16 percent said they are afraid to ask for food assistance because of their immigration status.  

“Congress has denied many of them access to crucial safety-net programs and stimulus payments,” Millona saidWe must have a fair, equitable and inclusive COVID-19 response, at both the federal and the state levels. It’s a matter of justice, and of human decency.” Her organization is partnering with REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, the Brazilian Worker Center and other organizations to advocate for a federal COVID-19 package that includes safety net funding for all immigrants, regardless of legal status.  

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.

About 41 percent of respondents are facing housing instability, including a small percentage of immigrants who have been evicted despite the ongoing eviction ban.