Dispatches From New York During the Pandemic

Dispatches From New York During the Pandemic

Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, the state now at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, has warned the nation that the crisis besieging New York City is “your future.” On April 6, Governor Cuomo reported that there were 130,689 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state and 4,758 persons had died, including 2,474 in New York City.

New York City is also proudly a city of immigrants.  A February 2020 report by the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity found that immigrants “comprise 37.2 percent of the city’s population but 44.2 percent of the labor force,” and undocumented immigrants participate at a disproportionately high rate (77.5 percent) in the labor force, compared to less than 65 percent of the US-born population.

As the pandemic rages in New York, the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) will provide weekly dispatches from New York City on immigrants and those working with them.  The first dispatch is based on short reports from David A. Colodny, Director of Legal Services and Sr. Vice President, Catholic Migration Services of Brooklyn, and from Daniela Alulema, CMS’s Director of Programs.

Catholic Migration Services

Mr. Colodny reports that Catholic Migration Services is open, with staff working remotely and providing most of the agency’s services over the phone. It is continuing to represent clients with open cases, as best it can, given US Citizenship and Immigration Services office closures and immigration court restrictions and closures. Its naturalization program uses Citizenshipworks to work with clients remotely. However, its work has been challenging in areas other than citizenship. Its housing and workers’ rights teams are also working remotely and providing advice to tenants and workers through hotlines. Fortunately, in New York State, there is a 90-day moratorium on eviction proceedings for all residential and commercial tenants. Staff are also assisting clients with court and agency proceedings to the extent that the courts and agencies are open.

Catholic Migration Services is finding that immigrants are prioritizing services differently than they did prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. It is getting fewer calls in general, and its clients’ primary concerns are health and income related. Many have lost jobs and worry about their ability to pay bills and rent. Its workers’ rights team is advising clients on their eligibility for unemployment insurance, paid leave and other benefits.

The program has developed a list of resources for people whose primary concerns are not legal; e.g., financial assistance, food pantries and other benefits. Overall, immigrant communities do not seem as focused now on seeking immigration legal assistance. They have pressing needs (health and economic), and the program is trying to adapt to their priorities.

Emergency Fund to Support Undocumented Youth and Families

On March 18, the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC), an undocumented youth-led organization that works to empower immigrant youth, launched an emergency fund to support undocumented youth and families whose livelihoods have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal relief checks or unemployment benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (with certain exceptions for immigrants with temporary protections). Within a few days, the NYSYLC raised $75,000 through individual contributions and began distributing the emergency funding to the first 30 families. The NYSYLC received 1,500 requests for assistance and continues to receive donations to assist undocumented families. Initiatives of this kind will be particularly important, given that many undocumented workers will be hit “first — and worst” by the economic devastation caused by the pandemic.


April 7, 2020

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