According to the American Immigration Council, immigrants make up 14% of the U.S. population, and 12% of native-born U.S.-based Americans have at least one immigrant parent. Right now, there are six million immigrants in care positions working to respond to COVID-19. The disproportionate number of immigrants on the frontlines, alongside other social and economic factors, has made these communities particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. So how can you show up for immigrant and refugee communities in need?
Immigrant communities in the U.S. are far from a monolith. They consist of people who have come from many different parts of the world. In some cases, they came eagerly; in others, they came because it was not safe or possible to stay where they were. Keep in mind:
- Naturalized U.S. citizen, permanent resident, temporary visitor and undocumented immigrant are the primary immigration statuses. Laws, social services, privilege, and rights vary greatly across these groups.
- Asylum seeker, refugee, migrant and immigrant are not synonyms; read about what distinguishes these terms.
- The path to citizenship is neither simple nor straight-forward, and it is not available to everyone. From waits that span decades to abrupt changes in policy, many hurdles exist for people seeking to become U.S. citizens.
- It’s also true that citizenship isn’t necessarily everyone’s end goal.
- Review the American Immigration Council‘s fact sheet for more in-depth details about the U.S. immigration system. To stay informed of the latest policies, visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.
Understand distinct ways COVID-19 impacts immigrant communities
“The needs, challenges, and fears faced by some immigrants have been compounded by this crisis in nearly unimaginable ways,” Jessica Onobie, the advocacy manager for multilingual learners at the New York City Department of Education, told us. It’s important that we all do our part to stand in solidarity with immigrant families and communities. This begins with paying attention to factors that make these communities particularly vulnerable, including:
- Excessive exposure. From health care to cleaning roles, immigrants are overrepresented in frontline positions, amplifying their exposure to the virus.
- Economic vulnerability. Immigrants are also overrepresented in industries like retail and hospitality, which have had to lay off and furlough large numbers of employees. This has further exacerbated the pandemic’s economic toll on a community that oftentimes earns lower wages than native-born U.S. citizens.
- Lack of access to safety-nets and benefits. Many, because of their immigration status, are not entitled to unemployment insurance and do not have access to federal relief programs.
- Fear. People who are eligible for federal benefits may be discouraged from using them out of fear that doing so will make them ineligible for permanent residency and citizenship. Undocumented people may avoid needed trips to the hospital out of fear that they will be deported.
- Xenophobia. From anti-Asian racism to bans on immigration, the pandemic has intensified racism and xenophobia at all levels of our society. Faculty at California State University offer advice on challenging COVID-19 related xenophobia.
Donate to an organization that supports immigrants
A small contribution can go a long way. Here are a few donation worthy organizations doing work that uplifts immigrant and refugee populations:
- Immigrant Justice Corps is committed to ensuring immigrants have access to proper legal representation and offers a fellowship so new lawyers can develop expertise in immigration law.
- Movimiento Cosecha has a COVID-19 relief fund for impacted undocumented workers.
- Freedom for Immigrants's National Bond Fund helps immigrants who lack the funds to afford bail.
- The International Rescue Committee serves displaced people around the world and is currently on the ground in over 40 coronavirus-affected areas.
- United We Dream is the country’s biggest immigrant youth-led organization.
Other ways to support immigrant families
Not all support has to be monetary. Here are some things you can do to support immigrants and refugees in your community.
- Promote language access. Encourage organizations you work with, and others in your community, to use translation and interpretation services to widen accessibility. Apps like Tarjimly connect volunteer translators to immigrants and refugees, while Google Translate offers real-time transcription and other helpful features.
- Volunteer. Seek out organizations looking for bilingual volunteers. Contact organizations in your area are helping immigrants during this time and see how you can further or start those efforts.
- Know what’s available and spread the word. Informed Immigrant maintains a comprehensive database of local and national resources for “communities dealing with the unique challenges of coronavirus and immigration status,” and includes sections on education, financial assistance, mental health, and more.
- Support food pantries and other mutual aid groups. If you have food to donate or are willing to take time to make deliveries, the Sylvia Rivera Food Pantry is one example of an organization that supplies groceries to immigrants and other marginalized communities. There are many other ways to contribute. Find (or create!) a mutual aid group.
- Encourage participation in the Census. Immigrant neighborhoods often have disproportionately lower response rates, which directly impacts the funding for key services in these communities, including schools, Medicaid, Pell Grants and SNAP. Completing the Census helps ensure that communities receive vital resources.
- Speak out against xenophobia. If you hear hateful or xenophobic language, learn ways to speak against it.
Sheena Daree Miller is based in Brooklyn and divides her time between working in faculty development at a university and managing a black heritage center at a library. She is committed to promoting equity, with an emphasis on supporting graduating students and career changers.