To Alexandria Taylor, it feels like the coronavirus has been chipping away at her family’s stability for weeks.
First, business dried up for her husband, who installs countertops and tile for a living. Without that income, her family slipped behind on their mortgage payments. Then, the illness itself swept through their Salt Lake City household, forcing her husband to stay home from work altogether so he could take care of his wife and three daughters.
For a moment, it looked like there might be a sliver of good news in the federal COVID-19 relief packages.
“When I heard there would be help from the government, it shined a light on us,” Taylor tearfully told reporters Tuesday. “But guess what? We didn’t qualify because of who I’m married to.”
She and her three daughters were born in the United States. But because her husband is an undocumented immigrant, all of them were cut off from the $1,200-per-adult and $500-per-child checks sent out by the federal government to help families struggling during the pandemic.
Taylor shared her story during a virtual news conference to announce a new report examining how undocumented Utahns have been excluded from state and federal coronavirus relief, even though they pay taxes and form a vital part of the state’s economy.
Some states have taken action to help undocumented residents who can’t access federal aid, according to the report. Now, advocates are looking for something similar to happen in Utah.
“Utah’s undocumented immigrants have been considered essential during this pandemic but have continuously been left out,” said Maria Montes, community engagement and organizing manager for Comunidades Unidas.
The paper released by Voices for Utah Children estimates that undocumented state residents have missed out on more than $154 million in emergency assistance — $84 million for the $1,200 rebates; $4.5 million in the $500-per-child rebate provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act; $21 million in regular unemployment compensation and about $45 million in enhanced unemployment aid.
The report written by Mario Ramirez-Arrazola, an economics student at the University of Utah, concluded that depriving undocumented Utahns of this assistance is “not only cruel in the current circumstances, it is also bad for Utah’s economy.” Many families would’ve spent this money, helping the state bounce back from the economic slump caused by the pandemic, the paper argues.
The number of undocumented Utahns is somewhere between 79,000 and 110,000, according to the report, with most living along the Wasatch Front. The Migration Policy Institute has found that most undocumented workers in Utah have jobs in hotels, restaurants, construction, arts, entertainment, recreation, manufacturing or retail.
“These include both industries that have been particularly hard hit by the recession and industries that are less likely to allow people to work from home,” Ramirez-Arrazola said.
On top of that, he continued, undocumented Utahns pay income, property, sales and gas taxes. Payroll taxes are also taken out of their wages to support Medicaid and Social Security, programs for which they are ineligible, he said.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimated in 2017 that undocumented Utahns are paying nearly $70 million in yearly state and local taxes.
A few states have taken action to help undocumented residents who are cut off from other forms of aid during COVID-19.
California has committed $75 million to assisting undocumented residents and is partnering with philanthropic groups to raise another $50 million. Connecticut has supplied $2.5 million in rental assistance for undocumented residents and others who weren’t eligible for help through the federal CARES Act.
“I would like to ask our elected officials to open your hearts and to put yourselves in the shoes of all these families who did not receive a stimulus check,” Taylor said. “And know that even though the government did not step up to help us, the state has the opportunity to make that difference in our families’ lives during these difficult times.”
Speaking at Tuesday’s news conference, Aimee Contreras, 18, said her parents also were ineligible for stimulus checks. Both of them work as janitors and have continued to show up at their jobs, even though they don’t have health insurance and fear contracting COVID-19.
Contreras noted that the coronavirus has had a disproportionate impact on the state’s Hispanic and Latino community — which accounts for nearly 40% of the coronavirus cases in Utah while only representing 14% of the population. And she said the work of immigrants is too often taken for granted.
“We contribute so much to this country,” she said. “Whether that be working in fields in order to provide food for your households, working in extreme conditions to build a new facility, or being looked down upon because of the work we do when cleaning bathrooms.”