The coronavirus pandemic has taken a heavy toll on immigrant New Yorkers, both in terms of its health impact and the economic fallout, and now a new report shows just how deep and ubiquitous the damage has been so far.
In a detailed survey of 244 New Yorkers in the metropolitan region, one in six families said they have lost a relative to COVID-19. Black and Hispanic New Yorkers are dying from COVID-19 at about twice the rate of white New Yorkers, according to city data.
The survey was conducted by Make the Road New York and Hester Street immigrant advocacy organizations.
“We are seeing and hearing about devastation in our communities every day: community members sick and dying, and workers left without income wondering how they will feed their children, and newly-unemployed tenants desperately worried about being able to pay the rent. Amidst this crisis, it’s outrageous and infuriating how both Washington and Albany continue to exclude our communities,” said Javier Valdés, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York, in a press release Wednesday announcing the report “Excluded in the Epicenter.”
93 percent of the survey respondents identified as Latinx, and a third of the respondents are undocumented immigrants. 62 percent had legal status and another four percent had Dreamer or temporary protected status. Respondents were paid $20 to compensate them for answering the 56-question survey, and while many of the respondents knew the surveyors from fieldwork, the recorded answers were anonymous, according to the report. The respondents come from New York City, Long Island, and Westchester, hailing from areas that are heavily immigrant and/or communities of color.
One of them is Agustina Velez, a Corona resident who said she and her husband have both lost their jobs in the past two months and have no safety net because they are undocumented and don’t qualify for any governmental help.
She worked as a housecleaner and her husband worked in a restaurant. Now, to feed their two young children, “we have been receiving food from food pantries and in terms of rent, we haven’t been able to pay the rent and our landlord keep telling us we have to pay the rent and we have to pay by June,” Velez said in an interview translated from Spanish by an interpreter from Make the Road New York.
“I have been feeling very bad. Sometimes we feel like we’re in a crisis and we feel very stressed out,” she added. “We don’t know how we’re going to get out of this one.”
“The report makes plain that this was a crisis long in the making,” said Hester Street’s co-executive director Betsy MacLean in the press release. “The devastation in particular neighborhoods is the result of long-standing health and economic inequities. Now is our chance to make it right – we must do better, and those communities most impacted must lead the way.”
New York City’s pool of essential worker class relies on immigrants, the report said: “In the midst of a pandemic, the message to these workers seems to be that they are good enough to clean streets and subways, stock grocery stores, deliver food to homes, and even care for the sick, but not good enough to access vital economic assistance, worker protections, and adequate health care.”
The immigrant advocacy groups are pressing the state for immediate action: to pass a billionaire tax and create a $3.5 billion fund for excluded workers such as the undocumented immigrants, to cancel rent for struggling New Yorkers, and to free incarcerated people from prisons, jails and detention centers who are at risk of contracting COVID-19.
“I want to tell Cuomo to listen to us, that what he can do is to cancel rent for at least two months, and to include us in any type of funds that he’s given out because we don’t receive any help,” Velez said.