Governor Andrew Cuomo drew criticism from immigrant rights activists Friday for his answer to a question about the utter lack of government assistance for undocumented immigrants unemployed due to COVID-19.
At the end of his daily briefing at Marist College, Spectrum News asked what specific measures the state is taking to help recently laid-off undocumented residents, who are not eligible for unemployment benefits or federal stimulus checks.
“The federal government has a number of programs to address that,” he responded. “If we get some state funding through the federal government, we’ll do whatever we can.”
Several Hudson Valley immigrants and immigrant activists are worried. There does not appear to be a safety net provided by any level of government for undocumented New Yorkers during the COVID-19 emergency.
“It’s not on top of their list of priorities,” said Ignacio Acevedo, an immigrant rights activist, when reached by phone Friday. “I guess because we’re the easiest ones to get sacrificed.”
Acevedo, the founder of the local grassroots group The Best Immigrant Footprints, said he has heard from several people they are “close to the edge.”
One man was among several workers recently laid off by a local factory when COVID-19 cases first popped up there, but he later learned other workers were hired to replace them, Acevedo said.
“People were already scared before [the COVID-19 pandemic] to ask for help fighting for their rights,” he said. “It’s a really sad moment that, in New York, a supposedly progressive state, this is the best answer we can get.”
Spectrum News was unable to find any federal programs that bring immediate relief to undocumented workers who lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Diana López, the Ulster County organizer for the immigrant rights advocacy group, Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, says the state’s response to immigrant families during the pandemic has been “really awful.”
López played an active role in 2019 in getting New York’s Green Light bill passed and signed into law. The law allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. López said that during the COVID-19 emergency, organizers have not been able to lobby as effectively as they have with more traditional campaigns, like the one that helped pass the Green Light law.
“We were lobbying and in contact with representatives,” López said. “Since they’re not seeing us all the time and we can’t lobby up in Albany, it’s really hard.”
López credits some lawmakers who have taken notice of the unique strain immigrants are facing during the COVID-19 era, and are leading humanitarian efforts for them. According to the American Immigration Council, there were about 775,000 undocumented immigrants living in the state in 2014.
The council also has found that more than 500,000 New Yorkers are U.S. citizens who live with at least one family member who is undocumented.
“There are representatives who are worried and doing a lot of food drives and food distribution,” López said, “but that’s still not enough.”