I was born in Mexico and raised in Burlington, NC. Aside from my years in college and graduate school, Alamance County is my home where I’ve spent more than half my life, and a place I love deeply. For the past 2 months, I’ve chosen to lift up my community by fighting the widespread hunger here. During this work, I’ve seen all of the factors up close that make Latinx immigrant communities more vulnerable to the pandemic. It’s no surprise to me that about 40 percent of Latinos have reported that they view COVID-19 as a major threat to their health—twice the rate of white respondents.
In East Burlington, where there are many Black and Latinx residents, hunger was already a major issue due in part to the area’s classification as a food desert. This reality means that those in East Burlington are more likely to contract the virus, because they’re unable to get adequate, nutritious food to keep them healthy and protect their immune systems.
So while my neighbors who live in East Burlington’s zip code 27217 comprise approximately 24% of Alamance County’s population, they represent 47% of all the COVID cases. The factors that make this true — citizenship status, race, employment status, poverty, access to public benefits – have already led to a recent Community Health Assessment highlighting an 11 year life expectancy gap between East and West Burlington. And many families I know are facing all of this with understandably higher levels of stress due to uncertain and worsening economic conditions.
Our Community’s Collaborative Response
While all of this is deeply concerning, I can also say that the tight-knit collaborations among nonprofit organizations, healthcare, and foundations in Alamance County have made it easier to respond quickly to provide food and other basic necessities to those hardest hit by this crisis.
I’ve been working with CityGate Dream Center to support weekly meal distribution. Together, with support from foundations, donors, and volunteers, we’ve provided more than 13,480 meals via drive-thru distribution, countless diapers to families in need, information about the 2020 Census, thousands of masks, mental health resources, among many other things. This organization has been working in East Burlington for many years, so neighbors feel safe getting support there.
Undocumented, Essential, Yet Excluded
Early into this public health crisis, I heard from many Latinx immigrant community members who said their primary needs were getting information about the virus, health education about how to stay safe, and clarity about what the stay at home order meant. In addition, they were increasingly concerned about food because many families’ “breadwinners” had lost their jobs.
Now, families are facing more financial burdens, unable to pay their rent and bills. Many Latinx immigrant families are mixed status, meaning that someone in their immediate family is undocumented. Sadly, mixed status families were intentionally excluded from receiving stimulus checks, unemployment benefits, and other types of public support that other families across the country have benefited from. These families are being left out of relief efforts, despite being taxpayers, and often labeled and celebrated as “essential.”
There are around 350,000 undocumented individuals living in North Carolina. Thousands of these people work in sectors that are considered essential to the economy — factories, crop harvesting, food processing plants, construction, housecleaning, caring for children and elderly people, etc. We say thank you, and depend on them, yet they are not entitled to benefits that other families receive to stay healthy and stable during the pandemic.
Policy makers and funders, and anyone with decision–making power, can have a big impact in communities like Alamance that are suffering disproportionate impacts of COVID-19. We need to take a more equitable approach to deciding how resources are allocated, to ensure that families who need the most relief, like those in East Burlington, get the support they need.
Communities of color, including many immigrants, have been hit hardest by this public health crisis. It’s unconscionable to exclude any families from public aid – many of whom were already working hard but struggling to make ends meet, even before the coronavirus. According to a recent survey conducted by Siembra NC, a Latinx advocacy group, a majority of Latinx immigrants surveyed in several cities in North Carolina say they haven’t received any type of public assistance during the current coronavirus crisis.
How We Can Take Action to Support Immigrants
California and New York City have already created funds totaling $125 million and $20 million respectively to support immigrant families impacted by COVID-19. Many advocates are calling on Congress to include support for these families in the next federal coronavirus relief package. Reach out to your US House representatives here and Senators here to let them know this is important to you.
You can donate to the CityGate Dream Center’s relief efforts in Alamance County. You can also support families with additional immediate needs. Each of these local funds is providing emergency cash assistance to immigrant families dealing with the loss of income due to COVID-19:
- Siembra NC: Immigrant Solidarity Fund
- SAF / Justice for Migrant Women: Farmworkers’ COVID-19 pandemic relief fund
El Centro Hispano: COVID-19 Relief Fund
- El Pueblo: Mutual Aid for Immigrant Families
- El Vínculo Hispano: Chatham Solidarity Fund
- PoderNC: Mi Para Ti for directly impacted families
- Western NC Workers’ Center: Rapid Response Fund for Immigrant Workers in Western NC