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COVID-19 Pandemic Hits Hard The Finances Of Undocumented Families


What happened when a family with five people earning money went down to one who did? NPR's Adrian Florido reports on a family that is not receiving federal relief money.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: The first person in Luz Chavez's (ph) house to lose a job was her father after an accident last fall left him unable to work. Then when the pandemic struck, her 17 and 20-year-old siblings lost their jobs at a daycare. And finally, her mother lost her job as a hotel housekeeper.

LUZ CHAVEZ: And it all happened within a week in the last week of March.

FLORIDO: The night her mother was laid off, she called the family into the living room. They live in Maryland.

CHAVEZ: I remember my mom telling us that, like, everything has to change at home. We have to make sure that we're not going out to eat, to find a lot of mutual aid funds and food banks that were, you know, giving out food to families regardless of immigration status.

FLORIDO: Because her parents are undocumented, her family did not qualify for federal stimulus payments. They're among an estimated 15 million undocumented immigrants and their citizen children left out. They also can't get unemployment. When it was clear they had burned through their savings, her parents called another meeting, this time, with just Luz.

CHAVEZ: They didn't want to word as if, like, we need all your money (laughter). It was more like, we really need the help as much as possible.

FLORIDO: Luz Chavez is 23, a college student and is also undocumented. Her parents left Bolivia when she was a toddler. But she has DACA and a part-time fellowship with an immigrant rights organization, the only member of the family still earning money.

CHAVEZ: And, you know, that moment for them to ask was, like, so hard for them. And, you know, they always emphasize that every time we talk - how hard it is for them to ask.

FLORIDO: She says, she never questions supporting her family. But becoming its sole provider, she said...

CHAVEZ: Because the culture shift in my household, it changed, like, the role of authority at some point.

FLORIDO: Her 17-year-old brother started saying it was like she'd become his mother. No, Chavez tells him. Mom is still Mom. Even more uncomfortable is when her parents ask her if it's OK to buy certain things. Of course, she tells them. Please, don't ask. She said these new familial dynamics have taken a toll. Her dad has cried himself to sleep.

CHAVEZ: Because, you know, he feels like he's worthless. And I don't want him to feel that way. I'm sorry.

FLORIDO: Friends of hers have become the sole breadwinners. And their own mixed-status families have had similar experiences, family dynamics turned upside down. Hector Sanchez-Flores is executive director of the National Compadres Network, which helps Latino families work through trauma.

HECTOR SANCHEZ-FLORES: Under the best of circumstances, there is an order for how families operate. And when you remove those responsibilities from people that are really identified by that role, it can create a crisis.

FLORIDO: He said, the federal money that has helped keep millions of American households afloat during the pandemic has also helped maintain a sense of family structure. For immigrant families that have gone months without that help, that's been harder.

SANCHEZ-FLORES: These families often are heroic in what they're trying to achieve. But how is it that we lend support so that they can remain connected, so that when we get back out of this pandemic, we begin to regain those healthy connections based on how a family wants to function?

FLORIDO: Luz Chavez says including undocumented immigrants in Congress' next stimulus would help given their critical role in the economy. She and advocates nationwide are lobbying for that.

CHAVEZ: It's imperative to know that, like, families like mine exist.

FLORIDO: Like all families, she said, they're working hard to get through this.

Adrian Florido, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUILTY GHOSTS' "THE END OF AKIRA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.
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