Op-ed | Stop playing politics with New York’s immigrant families

Activists and DACA recipients march up Broadway during the start of their ‘Walk to Stay Home,’ a five-day 250-mile walk from New York to Washington D.C., to demand that Congress pass a Clean Dream Act, in Manhattan, New York
FILE PHOTO: Activists and DACA recipients march up Broadway during the start of their ‘Walk to Stay Home,’ a five-day 250-mile walk from New York to Washington D.C., to demand that Congress pass a Clean Dream Act, in Manhattan, New York, U.S., February 15, 2018. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)


Editor’s note: The author’s last name has been withheld. She is affiliated with the New York Immigration Coalition, which provided this op-ed.

Sixteen years ago, I came to New York City to meet my husband and start our life together. We built a home here and are raising our two children in a community that we feel deeply connected to through our church, school, friends, and neighbors.

We thought we had done everything the government wanted immigrants like us to do, including paying taxes, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the government turned its back on us.

Like so many other New Yorkers, my husband and I both lost our jobs. Before the outbreak, I worked at a cleaning service but once the pandemic hit our clients canceled. At first, the cleaning service claimed that when the self-isolation orders ended, I would return to work. As the weeks turned into months, the cleaning service’s revenues dried up and then it shut down.

My husband took great pride in his job at a deli in midtown Manhattan. He loved that he was our family’s breadwinner. When the deli furloughed him, he felt powerless as we struggled to feed our kids and keep a roof over our heads. Recently, he returned to work but with fewer hours and the months spent jobless means that our bills piled up.

Our two young boys, 6 and 8 years old, are both American citizens. They love running, playing soccer, playing hide and seek. We all adored our outings to the park, where we would play dominos, Loteria, and draw with the boys. But what help did they receive after their parents lost their jobs? Nothing. We received no stimulus check, no unemployment benefits. We aren’t alone.

The exclusion of hard-working families like ours, with American citizen children or spouses, in all of the Federal COVID-19 relief packages meant not only that 15.4 million people received no help during a historic economic recession, but many like us struggled to pay the bills that keep mounting

Like many parents, we hoped to build a brighter future for our children. As I read about the early COVID-19 outbreak, my first thoughts were; What will happen to my children? I worried the fear and anxiety gripping the city would overwhelm them. Surprisingly, my kids weathered the crisis well.

Instead, I was the one who struggled constantly with the stress of how we would continue to feed our children, house our family, and pay our bills. As the little savings we had ran out, I wondered if the government would ever consider putting families first. As each stimulus relief package was passed, I began to lose faith. The government has let me down three times, already.

Fortunately, the community stepped in to help. Thanks to my membership in ImmSchools, a local nonprofit supporting immigrant families and their children, I was able to find some support to help me better handle my anxiety. They also helped my family secure some temporary cash assistance via the ImmSchools Family First Fund and the New York Immigration Coalition’s NY United Emergency Cash Assistance Program, to help us get through another month of bill payments and groceries. I will be forever grateful for this assistance, but I know that so many other immigrant families did not have these resources. They need and deserve help too.

It’s frustrating to see immigrant families like ours continually marginalized and treated like political footballs. We are human beings with dreams and lives. We are the same people who make up more than half of New York City’s essential workers. We are your neighbors, friends, and loved ones. And like many other American families, we need some help to weather these challenging and uncertain times.

We need a relief package that includes all of us.

New York is our home. It’s where my children were born, where my husband and I have built a life and the place where we continue to dream about our future after the pandemic. It will take all of us to rebuild this nation after the pandemic and we can only do it if our government also invests in every family to ensure that we can collectively beat back COVID-19.

The virus doesn’t play politics or discriminate and neither should the government. We can only win this fight against the pandemic together. Anything short of that will hurt the nation’s recovery.

It’s time for Washington to make sure that every family has a chance to recover from the hardships of this pandemic by passing a stimulus package that includes all of America’s families.

Maria is a proud parent and a member of ImmSchools.