As the world slowly starts to return back to normalcy, undocumented citizens continue to live through harsher realities than most people understand. Without having the correct resources, a local network to rely on, or comfortability with English language, etc., everyday life becomes a challenge in ways that differentiate them from other disadvantaged groups. Being residents in Athens, Georgia, it is our responsibility to protect and enhance all facets of our community as best we can. The goal is for consistent and continuous support, and now more than ever is the time to start getting involved with helping those who may be less fortunate.
The impact of COVID-19
Many undocumented workers are being cast into unemployment due to the recent outbreak of the coronavirus, but they don’t have the same privileges and protections that other Americans have. It’s commonplace for undocumented people to work in industries – like construction, restaurants and other service-based jobs – that are processing mass layoffs. Not only that, but most don’t have access to healthcare or paid sick leave. Unfortunately, they cannot apply for unemployment or receive benefits from a government stimulus plan, despite the fact that they are taxpayers too.
According to research of 2018 Census data by the New American Economy Research Fund, there are seven million immigrants unauthorized to work that make up just over 4% of the work force in the United States. However, undocumented immigrants account for around 12% of workers in construction, 10% in hotels, and 8% in restaurants and food service.
There is good news: you absolutely can help. As we begin to focus on adapting to the aftermath of the pandemic, here are some ways to best serve the needs of our community.
Best practices for getting directly involved
Across the city, there are plenty of organizations that are active in the community and are always looking to grow their involvement network. Such as:
If being unable to donate is holding you back, that’s no problem. These organizations will benefit from much more than a check. They need people to attend their events; they need people to help tutor; they need people to help drive. But honestly, they just need people to reach out and ask, “How can I help your organization?”
There are also plenty of ways to be helpful by simply being a good neighbor. Building a community with those who live around you and being a known resource to them not only allows you to meet new people, but it gives you the opportunity to potentially change lives. Because, there are plenty of people out there that legitimately take advantage of immigrants – regardless of legal status. For example: tricking someone into signing a once-in-a-lifetime deal on health insurance that resulted in a $1,000 loss, plus the disappointment and fear of reverting back to not actually having insurance (true story).
Speaking from experience, my mother would constantly lend the extra room in our house to all of my friends and their families if they needed it. We also speak Spanish, so she would actually sit down with parents and help them learn English. Or, she would help them complete their taxes; or negotiate a better price on getting their car fixed. There is always something you can help with, but you have to build that community and those relationships first.
Considering all angles
Immigrants’ struggle for rights has historically been a prominent issue in America. Imagine living in a country where you have no legal protection plus the government is actively trying to take you away from your home, your family, your life. Being undocumented can easily strip someone of living a life that they worked so hard for, all at a moment’s notice.
A friend, who preferred to remain anonymous, shared some of her experiences growing up saying: “You live your life in perpetual fear that you could get deported. If you’re in trouble, you are living afraid to seek help. There is a complete distrust of the police force, yet they’re supposed to provide a feeling of safety and security. You have to just keep your mouth shut and your head down.” Living undocumented is living a different world. She explained that the language barrier alone can make it impossible to even know your own rights. So, being a resource for someone truly can change their life.
As our mission suggests, Athens for Everyone’s goals are to progress social justice, promote equal representation and counteract the economic imbalances in the Athens, Georgia, community. Again, as the world begins to be put back together, undocumented citizens continue to face these hardships that have only been intensified.
While there are many opportunities to get involved and serve the community, the most important thing you can do is vote. (And bring your friends!)
Information on registering to vote, how to vote, where to vote, and so much more can all be found at this link.
Please also visit our Athens for Everyone voter guide for more information about the candidates and positions in the upcoming local and state election.
Author: Ben Kirk, UGA Student
Jan, Tracy. “Undocumented Workers among Those Hit First – and Worst – by the Coronavirus Shutdown.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 4 Apr. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/04/05/undocumented-immigrants-coronavirus/.by