In normal times, Diana Moreno helped immigrant workers secure work and get paid.

Moreno and the New York City nonprofit New Immigrant Community Empowerment, or NICE, whose Workers Rights Program she directs, advocate on behalf of jornaleros, Latino immigrant day laborers who work for contractors. The center acts as a liaison between workers and employers, ensuring that contractors don’t withhold wages and that laborers are paid adequately and are organized according to experience.

But that was before COVID-19 upended life in the heavily immigrant neighborhood of Jackson Heights, Queens, where NICE is based. Now, with no jobs to be had, Moreno’s focus has shifted: She’s simply helping immigrant families get access to food.

“The first wave was joblessness and unemployment,” Moreno said. “And these are people who cannot afford not to go to work.”

Across the country, advocates like Moreno are working to provide basic necessities to immigrant families, especially those without legal status who lack a safety net and are too worried or threatened to seek medical treatment or help.

Mobilizing relief efforts

In New York, NICE is one of many groups pivoting from their regular missions. Its “relief brigade” brings groceries to families in the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst, which have some of the highest numbers of COVID-19 casualties in the city.

“Despite them being part of a high-need population, they are still giving their time and effort to food distribution efforts,” Moreno said of the neighborhood members helping deliver the much-needed items.

Moreno, 32, who has been working in New York for the past year after moving there from Gainesville, Florida, said “layer upon layer” of issues have made the pandemic an existential threat in the neighborhoods she serves.

One issue is the high price of medical care, especially for immigrants who don’t have access to insurance.

“Cost is at the front of their minds, like any other Americans,” Moreno said. “They delay, 100 percent, until they can no longer wait, until it’s an emergency.”

In addition, families with members who don’t have green cards fear using public benefit programs — even if other family members qualify — after the Trump administration expanded a public charge rule. It expands the criteria for denying applications for legal permanent residence based on past or potential use of government benefit programs.

That and fear of Immigration and Customs Enforcement have kept families out of hospitals and medical centers, Moreno said.

“Our members are not going to get tested, because they’re afraid,” Moreno said. “We have no doubt that that’s led to higher rates of infection, especially among families and people living in close quarters, which we know our members do.”

‘People are afraid to accept anything’

Outside Boston, Erika Perez sees the same trepidation among families.

“People are afraid to accept anything,” said Perez, 37, an interpreter and immigrant advocate who has been in the North Shore of Massachusetts since 2002; she’s originally from Guatemala. “They think it’s going to come back to them.”

In March, Perez began helping indigenous Central American immigrant families with their rent payments, writing letters to landlords and serving as an advocate for them. Now, she has organized a group to bring food and supplies to families and tries to persuade worried families to seek medical help.

Source : NBC News

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