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The Internationalist
  August 2020

Millions of Undocumented Immigrants and Their Families Facing the Abyss

New York: We Demand Equal Treatment and Emergency
Support for Excluded Workers!

Hundreds of residents of Corona, Queens, line up to receive free food from a church, April 27. More than 200,000 undocumented workers in New York City have lost their jobs or cannot find work in the middle of the pandemic. (Photo: Ben Fractenberg / The City)

Declaration of Class Struggle International Workers

We are already in the sixth month of the health crisis unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic. A worrying spike in infections is shaking much of the country. The economic crisis worsens: the number of unemployed reached 55 million at the beginning of July, and continues to grow. Meanwhile, the marches of the Black Lives Matter movement against racist police brutality continue. Federal forces besiege Portland, Oregon, in an attempt to suppress protests, and other cities are targeted. Against this background, new storms of crisis are coming for the working class in general, and for immigrants in particular. Very soon eviction orders are coming for families that cannot pay their rent. Among the first affected will be undocumented immigrants.

At the national level, the impact of the coronavirus crisis was partially mitigated by the emergency measures of the CARES Act, which awarded a check for $1,200 per adult (with annual income of less than $75,000) and $ 500 for each child, in addition to supplemental unemployment pay of $600 a week and the inclusion of millions of workers who were previously excluded from the unemployment insurance system. All with one condition: beneficiaries are required to have a valid Social Security number. In this way they excluded millions of undocumented immigrant workers, many of whom pay taxes with a taxpayer identification number (ITIN). Moreover, if you file taxes as a couple with an undocumented person, or if there is even one undocumented person in the family, everyone is prohibited from receiving help. In total, at least 15 million people have been excluded, including 3.7 million children.

In March, New York became the main source of contagion of the coronavirus throughout the U.S. The health crisis is the result of the ineffectiveness and ineptitude of the bourgeois authorities, the inability of the capitalist medical system to meet the needs of the population, and its criminal policy of sending the patients with “mild” cases home, where they infected other family members or roommates. The situation soon turned into a terrible crisis of survival for the most vulnerable. Thousands of people every day turned to the long lines to get food aid in churches and community centers. These have not been able to keep up with the high demand, and many of those who queued up since dawn, sometimes in the rain, often returned home empty-handed.

On the one hand, with the stay-at-home policies, many undocumented immigrants have been left without jobs. With no wages or aid, many immigrant workers, with what little savings they have left, have to choose between paying rent on their homes or buying groceries. An estimated 200,000 undocumented workers in New York City have lost their jobs or cannot find work due to the pandemic. On the other hand, there are more than one million workers considered “essential” for the transportation system, food supply (supermarkets, warehouses), health and social services to continue to function. Most are immigrants, nearly two-thirds are black or Latino, and the vast majority receive poverty wages. At the same time, they are the ones who are at the greatest risk of contracting the coronavirus.

As early as mid-April, Governor Andrew Cuomo flatly refused to provide financial assistance to undocumented immigrant families, claiming that there was not enough money due to fiscal problems in the state government in Albany (New York Post, 16 April). What a gross lie! Around the same time, the state of California decided to provide $75 million in direct cash aid of $500 each to a limited number of 150,000 undocumented immigrants. The aid that was given to the beneficiaries through a kind of lottery (distributed to the first to call) was quite minimal, since there are two million undocumented people in California. However, in New York, no official financial support has been provided to immigrant workers. This is intolerable.

According to the New York City Office of Immigrant Affairs, 37% of the city’s residents are immigrants, representing 44% of the workforce, that is 3.2 million immigrants. Of these, 1.2 million are undocumented. The vast majority of undocumented workers pay taxes on their wages, in addition to all paying sales taxes on everything they buy. Even so, they will not receive a dime of the benefits that they have financed with their contributions to the public treasury. It is estimated that funds paid by undocumented immigrants to the federal government that are not claimed amount to approximately $12 billion to Social Security and $3 billion to Medicare yearly. Without this money, the U.S. public pension system would be running a whopping deficit.

Trabajadores Intrnacionales Clasistas (TIC, Class Struggle International Workers) in the internationalist contingent marching on June 19 in New York City against racist police murder.  (Internationalist photo)

We of Class Struggle International Workers (TIC) demand, first, that the state of New York include all workers, particularly the undocumented and those in the “gig economy” (falsely classified as “self-employed”), among those eligible for unemployment benefits. We are not begging: we have already paid the taxes. In the last ten years, undocumented workers in the state have been estimated to have paid $ 1.4 billion in unemployment insurance taxes (Fiscal Policy Institute, 14 May). Second, we demand that the state and city governments make up for the unfair exclusion of immigrants from federal “stimulus” payments and from the pandemic unemployment fund. And third, we demand that rent be canceled (including back rent) for the unemployed and that all residential evictions be prohibited in the midst of the pandemic.

Several NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and advocates of immigrants’ rights are supporting a bill (NY S. 8277), sponsored by State Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Carmen de la Rosa, that links a “workers rescue fund” to a wealth tax on the super-rich (“billionaire’s tax”). It is not up to the workers to give advice to the capitalist government on where and how it should find the money to pay for what the bosses and their state have already taken from the workforce of heavily exploited undocumented immigrants, and this in a crisis where “essential” workers are risking their lives. It’s absurd to pretend they don’t have money when New York City’s Wall Street is the world capital of high finance. We demand what’s ours, what we need for a decent life, period.

These urgent measures are very far from solving all the ills that immigrants are suffering in this crisis. There are the hundreds of thousands of agricultural workers (800,000 in the fields of California alone, 60% of them undocumented) whose work is essential to feed the country, but who labor for poverty wages with almost non-existent safety measures. There are racist attacks, particularly against Asians, who have been the targets of discrimination for what President Trump cynically and abusively calls “the Chinese virus.” In addition, there is the nefarious activity of the I.C.E. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), the hated migra, which stalks our communities, which imprisons tens of thousands of detainees in unsanitary conditions in their concentration camps, and which with mass deportations has exported the virus to countries in Latin America.

We insist: No working-class family should have to decide between paying the rent or buying food. No one should be put out on the street because of unemployment and unpayable rents. We are not illegal, we are international workers and we demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants. Instead of pleading with the capitalist political parties and politicians, Democrats and Republicans, we must mobilize the power of the working class, of the millions of immigrant workers together with all the oppressed, against murderous police brutality and racist attacks, to stop evictions and to block raids and deportations. We fight to forge a revolutionary workers party to lead the struggle to overthrow this capitalist system that is killing us, throwing it into the dustbin of history through international socialist revolution. ■