‘If we are going to call ourselves a sanctuary city we have to wear the pants and protect immigrants’: Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz defends undocumented workers

Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz delivers a bag of food at her office located at 41-40 Junction Blvd., Corona, Queens. (Photos courtesy of World Central Kitchen)


Queens Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz is aware that as a representative of the neighborhoods most affected by the coronavirus in the country and even the world, it’s necessary to step up the help and cover the needs of undocumented workers if we want to effectively fight the negative effects of the pandemic.

“I think that as a community, as a state, as a country, we must recognize that without many of those workers we would be doing worse; those are the workers who are in the supermarkets, in the restaurants, and we are not recognizing their value,” said the Assemblywoman for the 39th district that covers Jackson Heights, Corona, and Elmhurst. “I think if we are going to call ourselves a sanctuary city we have to wear the pants and protect immigrants the way they deserve.”

Cruz is convinced that at the federal level, aid will be unavailable, so her office is advocating so certain resources are not erased from the budget, including legal services for immigrants: “Now that people are dying they also want to deport them,” she said.

According to a statement from The NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, among the one million essential workers who are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic—delivery workers, EMS staff, drivers, health care personnel, and more—half are immigrants.

New York City is home to 3.1 million immigrants who comprise about 37 percent of the City’s population and 44 percent of its workforce– including approximately 360,000 undocumented workers and 48,000 undocumented business owners. Also, over a third of NYC’s undocumented workforce is low income, is ineligible for most safety net assistance, and has been left behind by federal stimulus packages because of their documentation status. 

“We have a president who doesn’t even recognize a pandemic until it’s too late. We have a governor who has done a lot for the state during the emergency but who has put certain limitations,” Cruz stressed. “For example, we could have raised $ 40 billion in the budget if we had been willing to put more taxes on the wealthy in this state.”

Step up the help

Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio were called out by Brooklyn Council Member Carlos Menchaca, chair of the Council’s Committee on Immigration, to “step up” and provide undocumented workers immediate cash relief similar to what the state of California is doing. Sentiment echoed by the pro-immigrant organization, Make the Road NY.

“It is frankly outrageous that Governor Cuomo refuses to meet the urgent needs of immigrant New Yorkers. As our community members are disproportionately affected by this crisis and left out of the government’s relief, the Governor continues to insist on austerity economics, protecting the billionaires from taxes while leaving immigrants on the front lines at grave risk of hunger, illness, and death,” said in a statement Javier H. Valdes, Co-Executive Director of the nonprofit organization.

To counter this, Mayor de Blasio announced a partnership with Open Society Foundations to establish the New York City COVID-19 Immigrant Emergency Relief program, to ensure all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, are included in citywide COVID-19 response and relief efforts. This $20 million donation marks an essential step to provide emergency monetary relief to immigrant workers and their families, who have largely been excluded from federal COVID-19 relief programs.

“Immigrants are the heart of this City – they are our friends, neighbors and colleagues,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “This crisis has shown it is now more important than ever for New Yorkers to look out for each other. I want to thank the Open Society Foundations for partnering with us to ensure that all New Yorkers, regardless of their documentation status, can get the support they need.”

Needed services for the community 

Assemblywoman Cruz’s office, meanwhile, is offering various services to the community, including doubling as a community pantry.

“One of the things we did is turned our office into a community pantry,” Cruz said. “We are trying to supply the basic needs for many people who do not qualify for other types of aid. There has been so much need that several days we have run out of food and left a line of people – it is a neighborhood with many needs, and very few resources for people who do not have papers.”

Also, her office is helping people determine what services they qualify for. “You talk to them (by phone), you listen to their needs, connect them and often help apply for these services,” she said.

As the first former DREAMer elected to the New York Assembly, the Colombian legislator also keeps in mind the young and undocumented that are part of the ‘Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)’ program, who are currently awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision to renew their legal status in the country.
“In the midst of this pandemic, (The Supreme Court should) make a decision that can give so many the possibility to work. Many are doctors, nurses, people who are helping to save this country. There is nervousness and many expectations to see what will happen with this decision. Meanwhile we are guiding many of them to resources so they can renew their DACA regardless of what will happen with the Supreme Court,” said the Assemblywoman.