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Include the Excluded

May 19, 2020

Undocumented New Yorkers Need Economic Relief - They Keep Our City Alive

New Yorkers across the five boroughs are reeling from both the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Unemployment has reached record highs with one million New Yorkers losing work, lines for food pantries span blocks, and tenants across the city are concerned about if and how they’ll be able to pay their rent. Undocumented immigrants - who have been excluded from many federal and state economic resources, including the one-time stimulus payments provided by the CARES Act - have even fewer resources to cope with the economic ramifications of the pandemic. At a time when federal rent relief is far from assured, unemployment in New York City is expected to reach levels not seen in decades, and the federal government provides little in the way of economic relief, it is the responsibility of our city to provide basic social and economic resources to all residents.

While New York City has taken steps toward providing limited relief to immigrant workers and commercial tenants, it has fallen far short of what’s needed, in particular for undocumented New Yorkers. The Immigrant Emergency Relief Program, the City’s $20 million partnership with Open Society Foundations, only serves 3% of our city’s undocumented population. This leaves thousands of our frontline essential workers without aid. New analysis by ANHD based on data from the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) finds that the full cost of matching the one-time payment amounts stipulated by the CARES Act for all undocumented New Yorkers, including children, would be $578,088,000[1]. If the City were to match the need for mixed-status families, the total cost would reach $1.2 billion.

ANHD and our member organizations fight every day for equity in our neighborhoods and across our city. Undocumented New Yorkers are part of our communities and require adequate resources and support from our city government when the federal government fails to meet their basic needs. Fifty-three percent of undocumented New Yorkers are rent-burdened, paying more than a third of their income in rent, and 24.7% of the undocumented population experiences extreme rent burden, spending more than half of their income on rent. Without stimulus support and with little to no city support in sight, an already financially vulnerable population is in an even more precarious situation.

Ensuring that all New Yorkers have adequate resources is central to the well-being and recovery of New York City’s businesses, workforce, and neighborhoods. Seventy-nine percent of undocumented New Yorkers are part of the city’s labor force, compared to 64.4% of the city’s general population. Forty-eight percent of New York’s small businesses, the heart of the city’s local economy, are owned by immigrants. Immigrant businesses are providing lifelines for New Yorkers throughout the pandemic and will be vital to any economic recovery. Despite this, undocumented business owners were excluded from the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). Earlier small business emergency programs offered by New York City ran out of money quickly, and ANHD’s member organizations that serve businesses throughout the city have reported that English-only application forms are inaccessible to many immigrant business owners.

Immigrant New Yorkers have kept our city running throughout this pandemic. The Center for Migration Studies reports that 52.2% of the city’s essential workforce are immigrants. Seventy-one percent of the state’s undocumented labor force works in essential businesses.  Yet many immigrant New Yorkers and their families have been excluded from vital resources that are especially necessary at a time when businesses were forced to close and rent payments still loom. For many of those who are still employed, making ends meet means risking their safety and the safety of their communities in frontline occupations.

Other states and municipalities across the country are filling the gap created by the federal government by committing significant resources to undocumented residents. Austin, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles have all allocated money to a fund for those excluded from the CARES Act.  The state of California launched its $125 million fund this week. If New York City’s goal is to equitably provide resources to all New York residents - especially its essential workers - it must commit to more.

New York is proud to call itself a “sanctuary city,” yet the City has done little in this time of crisis to ensure that the basic needs of its undocumented workers and tenants are met. The City needs to allocate significant funding for undocumented New Yorkers and prioritize getting City and private dollars to those in need who are not and will not be able to acess federal resources. The City must commit to its immigrant residents who are keeping our city alive at great risk to themselves and their families.


[1] Based on population figures reported by State of Our Immigrant City, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Annual Report for Calendar Year 2019, March 2020. Estimated cost based on one time $1200 CARES payments for adults and one time $500 payments for children.

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