by Carolyn Bick
The Seattle City Council has unanimously adopted a resolution asking Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee to create a relief fund for undocumented workers affected by the current novel coronavirus pandemic.
The resolution, which was championed at the grassroots level by several immigrants’ rights organizations and introduced by sponsors Seattle City Councilmembers Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda at the City Council’s May 18 meeting, asks that the governor create the fund, because undocumented workers are ineligible for regular federal or state unemployment benefits or relief, despite paying taxes like official United States citizens.
During the City Council’s meeting, several undocumented immigrants and their community representatives spoke briefly about their experiences, during the public comment period. A community leader with OneAmerica said that her husband lost his job, due to the pandemic and ensuing business closures. He was the sole supporter of their family, she said. Now, the family has no resources to fall back on, she said, and can’t cover even their most basic expenses, such as rent, insurance, or internet for the couple’s children to be able to do their homework.
“It is very sad to tell my children that we have to ration our food portions even more, so that the food is enough for the days, and that my 12-and 13-year-old children ask their dad and myself if they can already start working to help with the expenses, if not being, left homeless,” she said, speaking through a translator. “We have always contributed to this country with hard work and paying our taxes. I think we are not asking for anything that we have not earned.”
Another community leader with OneAmerica said that she is a single mother with children to support, and has lost her job, due to the pandemic. She said she came to the U.S. 14 years ago, and has “always worked hard and long hours.”
“I have never received any kind of help, because it is important for me to set … a hard-work example for my children. I never saw the situation that we are experiencing today arrive where I could not work, and stay home for the wellbeing of my children,” she said, also speaking through a translator. “We have to decide between our health and our need. … Like many immigrant families, we contribute to our communities, and we deserve the dignity and support that anyone else in this country has.”
More than 250,000 undocumented immigrants live in Washington State, with more than 130,326 children who are U.S. citizens living with at least one undocumented family member, according to the American Immigration Council. About five percent of the state’s workforce is comprised of undocumented immigrants, and the resolution states that they are “particularly vulnerable to violations of their rights at work, and without a viable safety net they may be forced to work without personal protective equipment (PPE), forced to work despite feeling ill, or be afraid to report working conditions that violate the stay-home orders.”
However, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for healthcare coverage, and have to pay for healthcare out of their own pockets. The resolution also states that undocumented workers are often denied their right to state-mandated sick leave.
The resolution asks that Inslee make an initial investment into the fund of $100 million that community groups may then distribute, as well as work with state leadership to provide wage replacement protection for workers who lose their jobs.
The resolution will now go to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s desk for her signature.
Featured photo courtesy of Seattle City Council.
Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here.