In this time of economic uncertainty, the undocumented immigrant community has been overlooked and forgotten by the government. Undocumented workers are the unrecognized backbone of New York City’s economy, often hired to work low-wage jobs in restaurants and construction. As businesses shutter due to COVID-19 and in response to Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order requiring 100% of non-essential workers to stay home, it is the undocumented community that is left without a safety net. Undocumented workers are not eligible for unemployment benefits, and with job opportunities disappearing, many will be left without income. To protect all New Yorkers, the law should be amended to allow undocumented individuals to receive unemployment benefits.
There are over 900,000 undocumented individuals in New York State according to the Migration Policy Institute. Specifically within New York City, according to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs’ 2018 Annual Report, approximately 1 million people live in mixed-status homes, meaning that at least one household member is undocumented. All of these families could be without income for the foreseeable future unless the state changes its law to permit them to receive unemployment benefits as part of the ongoing COVID-19 relief efforts.
Providing unemployment benefits would not be an unprecedented action. In New York, undocumented workers are already eligible for workers compensation benefits and paid sick leave, and are also covered by state and federal labor laws. Furthermore, they pay taxes. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that undocumented New Yorkers pay about $1.1 billion in state and local taxes on a yearly basis. In recognition of their contributions, and the dire circumstances facing all workers in New York during this pandemic, the state government should amend its laws to provide unemployment benefits to all who are now jobless. The undocumented community should not be left to slip through the cracks.