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Advocates Help Immigrants Who Are Excluded From Relief Checks

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Americans are starting to see their stimulus payments from Congress' $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, but immigrants without legal status will not be getting that help. This reality has prompted some people to create their own local safety nets. NPR's Adrian Florido reports.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Before the pandemic, Maribel Torres worked cleaning the houses of 15 regular clients in Staten Island, N.Y. She hasn't worked in nearly two months, and only two of her clients continued to pay her.

MARIBEL TORRES: (Non-English language spoken).

FLORIDO: Torres says she's grateful for those two clients, but the money is not enough to cover her bills. She's out of savings.

TORRES: (Non-English language spoken).

FLORIDO: She says she tries not to think about how much she's not making because it'll put her in a bad state. Torres is undocumented, and so although she files taxes, neither she, nor her husband, nor her son, who are also out of work, will get a stimulus check from the federal government. They also don't qualify for unemployment. She and a few fellow housecleaners are trying to get by sewing masks that they can sell. Across the country, advocates are stepping in to try to keep millions of immigrants like Torres afloat.

SALVADOR SARMIENTO: For the immigrant rights community, the response that's going to be needed is unprecedented.

FLORIDO: Salvador Sarmiento is with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. It's collecting donations for undocumented workers. But Sarmiento said no amount of grassroots fundraising will be enough without government support.

SARMIENTO: So, really, the question now is, will localities and states do better, or will they replicate the same racist exclusions in the federal government?

FLORIDO: Some local governments have created funds for unauthorized immigrants. California is giving $500 to up to 250,000 of the state's 2 million undocumented residents. The city of Minneapolis is giving some families up to $2,000 to cover rent. Jacob Frey is the city's mayor.

JACOB FREY: Morally and economically, including our undocumented neighbors in relief funding is just the right thing to do.

FLORIDO: He said undocumented immigrants pay taxes and are an important part of his city's labor force. But he says there's a public health issue, too. He says he doesn't want them out trying to get work because they can't make rent.

FREY: It would weaken the overall COVID-19 response, and that's not something that we were about to do.

FLORIDO: These local efforts haven't gone unchallenged, though. In California last week, a conservative group sued Governor Gavin Newsom over his plan to help immigrants. One of the people suing him is Jessica Martinez, a councilwoman in the city of Whittier.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)

FLORIDO: Over the weekend, a handful of people protested outside her house while hundreds more watched a livestream of the protest. In many parts of the country, immigrant advocates are finding ways to redirect federal stimulus checks.

BRANDON WU: We thought, well, you know, a lot of people who are going to be getting those checks probably don't need them.

FLORIDO: Brandon Wu is an organizer with Sanctuary DMV, a collective of immigrant advocates in the D.C. area.

WU: And on the other hand, there are a whole lot of people who are not going to be receiving those checks who really, really do need them. And so why don't we create a fund to, you know, channel this money from where it doesn't need to be to where it does need to be?

FLORIDO: They launched a GoFundMe page hoping to raise the equivalent of 100 checks, $120,000. By this week, it raised about half a million.

Adrian Florido, NPR News, Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUILTY GHOSTS' "WOES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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