Utah activists seek pandemic aid for undocumented immigrants

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Moe Hickey from Voices for Utah Children and Maria Montes walk to the Federal Building in Salt Lake City with petitions signed by thousands of Utahns to present to Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, urging them to support extending federal COVID-19 relief measures to undocumented workers, Monday, Aug. 10, 2020.

Activists on Monday asked Utah’s senators to help pass more pandemic relief and include a group of needy taxpayers who have been excluded so far: undocumented immigrants.

“There are approximately 59,000 undocumented or mixed-status families in Utah who have paid taxes through their ITIN number” for workers without a Social Security number, said Moe Hickey, CEO of Voices for Utah’s Children.

But he said a study recently released by his group and Comunidades Unidas said undocumented Utahns were excluded from $154 million in federal and local aid, including the recent $1,200 per person stimulus payment and the extra $600 weekly unemployment insurance benefits.

The study also said undocumented workers in Utah paid an estimated $71 million for unemployment insurance over the past decade for a benefit they cannot receive even during a period of heavy unemployment.

“If nothing else, we’d like to see some set aside for children that would help stabilize families,” Hickey said before the groups held an event at the federal building in downtown Salt Lake City to make their call and present 2,400-plus petition signatures to the offices of Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney, both R-Utah.

Maria Montes, community engagement and organizing manager for Comunidades Unidas, said an extension of expiring benefits is needed.

“We want support to go to all taxpaying families,” she said. “Unfortunately, during the last round of stimulus checks, undocumented families were left out — even though they are also contributors.”

She said her group constantly receives calls from Latino families who are struggling to pay rent and put food on the table.

“They work in jobs where social distancing or working from home is not necessarily an option,” she said. “These families are doing the best that they can. They continue to work under hazardous circumstances and they’ve yet to receive any of the aid that has been continuously promised to other communities.”

Currently, state data shows that Latinos account for about 38% of all COVID-19 cases in Utah but make up only about 14% of the population.

Montes said the group wants to raise awareness about “the challenge that Latinx and immigrant communities are facing right now.”

Hickey said that families beyond the undocumented immigrants also need a new round of relief, and said executive orders signed by President Donald Trump over the weekend face likely legal challenges and may not provide much assistance.

“Even with the executive actions taken by the president, the [enhanced] unemployment insurance is certainly in limbo,” he said. “One of the things that’s been clear in the response from both parties is that the president doesn’t have the authority to fund projects, and that approval can only come from Congress for spending.”

So the groups are urging Romney and Lee to prod ongoing negotiations about whether and how to extend pandemic aid, and find compromises to enact it.