undocumented immigrants seeking aid

Courtesy Gonzalo Cruz

At a workers’ rights session, staff of the Worker’s Justice Project handed out refreshments and masks on New Utrecht Avenue, Brooklyn.


Este artículo apareció primero en español. Lee la versión en español.


The New York City COVID-19 immigrant emergency relief program has not begun and most community-based organizations (CBO) are overwhelmed by the number of people seeking financial assistance and very few continue to accept applications from people seeking financial support.

Thursday, May 7 marked three weeks since the day that Mayor de Blasio announced a partnership with Open Society Foundations to establish the relief program, but it has not yet started.

One of the main concerns in implementing the relief program is privacy and confidentiality. The city said that they will not have access to personally identifiable participant information at any time. It also said that the program will be led–and information collected–by community-based organizations (CBOs) because CBOs have existing relationships with members of the target population and are experienced in working with vulnerable communities.

About 30 community-based organizations have been selected to be part of the city’s program; however, due to the sensitivity of this program, concerns about the privacy of the target population, and CBO capacity, the city will not be immediately releasing a list of participating CBOs to the public. At the same, these CBOs will have some limited capacity to take referrals from trusted partners, including MOIA’s hotline (212-788-7654).

However, likely CBO partners such as Make the Road New York, Sunnyside Community Services, and One Fair Wage have not received detailed information from the city about how the immigrant emergency relief program will operate, nor have they been formally confirmed as part of the group that will distribute the program’s funds.

Even though the mayor’s relief program has not begun, community-based organizations have been inundated with informal requests for aid from desperate residents. Most of the private programs to provide financial support were quickly depleted. For example, United We Dream’s assistance fund was created as direct financial assistance to undocumented immigrants and their families, but its NationalUndocuFund closed after 15 minutes because of the high number of applications.

The New York State Youth Leadership Council raised funds to support undocumented youth and their families in New York City during the time of COVID-19, but applications closed “due to an overwhelming amount of applications,” emailed the organization. 

The Betancourt Macias Family Scholarship Foundation created the “undocu scholars fund”, intended to support undocumented people or undocumented family members impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the form supporting undocumented families is no longer accepting responses.

“Currently, we are at a standstill with funds because we have a lot more requests than we do funds so we are in the process of disbursing funds to the families who have already applied,” replied the Betancourt Macias’ fund via email.

Make the Road New York, which was giving out debit cards up to $300, experienced something similar. So far, they have helped over 4,000 households and have distributed about $900,000 but the demand for financial assistance has not stopped.

Audrey Pan, community organizer from Revolutionizing Asian-American Immigrant Stories on the East Coast (RAISE) —an undocumented youth group affiliated with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund–said that during the first round of operations their fund received 1,600 applications in 24 hours. The $20,000 from the first campaign has already been distributed to 107 families. With the funds collected in the second campaign, they want to serve the other families on their list, mainly households in the New York area, and they plan to continue repeating this scheme until they manage to help as many people as possible on the list.

It is not surprising that in the midst of this crisis, it is precisely CBOs that have led the efforts to provide financial support to the most vulnerable populations such as undocumented workers, who have largely been excluded from federal COVID-19 relief programs.

The majority of the dozen organizations contacted by City Limits are not accepting applications at this time; however, there are a couple of organizations that are accepting applications from new undocumented applicants and will grant resources on a first- first-come, first-served basis.

The  Worker’s Justice Project (WJP) is specifically providing financial support to day laborers and domestic workers. They are giving relief payments of $250 per worker. In the first round of payments, the organization distributed a total of $25,000 to 100 people. In the second campaign, they are going to prioritize day laborers and domestic workers in New York City who have been out of work for more than five weeks and/or have been sick due to coronavirus. During the week of May 18 to May 22, the Worker’ s Justice Project will select the people who will receive this second round of financial aid.

If you would like to apply to this emergency fund click here. The application is available in Spanish and English. If you want to donate and support this campaign you can click here

Another fund that is available is One Fair Wage emergency fund, which “as of May 5 has raised $20.6 million,” says Saru Jayaraman, president of the organization, who adds that 165,000 applications have been registered. This emergency fund is prioritizing applicants from New York and wants to help restaurant workers, car-service drivers, delivery workers, personal service workers, gig workers, and other hourly workers facing unprecedented economic hardship from the coronavirus crisis.

If you would like to apply to this emergency fund click here. The application is also available in Spanish. If you have questions about this initiative, please click here. One Fair Wage will grant each worker $500 through PayPal.

“Every week we are delivering between $1 million and $2 million dollars; however, we are in need of volunteers,” says Jayaraman. If you want to volunteer you can register here and in case you want to donate money to support this initiative you can click here.

If you know about other relief programs or emergency funds available that are accepting applications from undocumented people in New York, please email us at daniel@citylimits.org and we will update and share this information with our readers.

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