Langley Park, MD, where 70% of adults are not U.S. citizens.

Langley Park, MD, where 70% of adults are not U.S. citizens.

The coronavirus has affected the economy like we’ve never seen before — more than 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began, with an unemployment rate not seen since the Great Depression.

Congress has spent trillions — giving most Americans a $1,200 stimulus check, plus $500 for every child. The federal government will also be giving the unemployed an additional $600 a week for four months.

These payments have been millions of people’s lifelines, allowing them to continue to put food on their tables. But all of this money, and all of these programs don’t help or apply to a large group of people in this country — the 11 million undocumented immigrants.

So who’s helping them?

Produced by Kurt Gardinier



  • 12:32:02

    KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. The Coronavirus has affected the economy like most of us have never seen before. Thirty-million Americans have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began, with an unemployment rate not seen since the Great Depression. Congress has spent trillions in stimulus money giving most Americans $1,200, plus $500 for every child. The unemployed are also being given an additional $600 a week for four months from the federal government.

  • 12:32:30

    KOJO NNAMDIThese payments have been lifelines for millions of people, allowing them to continue to put food on the tables. But none of this money and none of these programs apply to the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants living in the United States. So, who is helping them? Joining us now to have this conversation is Cathryn Ann Paul, a research and policy analyst at CASA. Cathryn Ann Paul, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:32:58

    CATHRYN ANN PAULThank you so much for having me.

  • 12:33:00

    NNAMDICathryn Ann, first, briefly tell our listeners exactly what CASA is and does.

  • 12:33:06

    PAULYeah, CASA is an immigrant advocacy organization. We're a membership-based organization across Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and D.C. We're representing over 100,000 members, and we have a goal for fighting for immigrant justice.

  • 12:33:22

    NNAMDIThank you. CASA has been around for a while, but not everyone else has been around for a while. Undocumented immigrants, Cathryn Ann Paul, are not eligible for any aid at virtually every level of government, so how are they getting by?

  • 12:33:36

    PAULYeah, I mean, it's a nightmare. I mean, before the pandemic, undocumented immigrants were paying 13 to $14 billion a year in taxes. They were making ends meet. They were doing what needs to be done. And they were, and they still are, essential workers. You know, now everything is shut down. The world is falling. Jobs are gone. Everyone needs support. The pandemic is really ravaging the health of this community. And the government has made a choice to leave people out to die. You're absolutely right, you know.

  • 12:34:08

    PAULAnd, you know, I'll start with the Trump administration. The Trump administration has made a choice not to include undocumented immigrants in the Cares Act. So, they're not receiving any of that financial support. On the state level, they're not eligible, at least in Maryland, for state insurance. They're not eligible for state unemployment. Our government has made a decision.

  • 12:34:30

    NNAMDIWell, since the federal and local governments are not helping undocumented immigrants, who is?

  • 12:34:38

    PAULWell, you know, there has been some support on the county level. We have seen some support from Prince George's County in Maryland, from Montgomery County in Maryland, but it's not enough. And there's time for the federal government to turn this around. There are new packages coming out, and they need to ensure that undocumented immigrants are included.

  • 12:35:02

    NNAMDIMany undocumented immigrants work a job that were once deemed low skill. But now these workers are deemed essential, critical. Do you think this will change any of the animosity toward this community in this country?

  • 12:35:17

    PAULYou know, I hope so. You know, you mentioned earlier, you know, there's 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., right. They are working the essential jobs. We can stay home because they are out there working. You know, they're working in the foot processing plants. They're working in the hospitals. They're working in the grocery stores. You know, they're so critical to the economy before COVID, and it's sad that it's taken a national health crisis for people to realize how critical they are, and, in this case, for some people to still not realize it.

  • 12:35:50

    NNAMDIAlso joining us is Mark Edberg, a professor at George Washington University, in the Prevention and Community Health Department. Mark Edberg, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:35:59

    MARK EDBERGThank you for having me. Always a fan.

  • 12:36:02

    NNAMDIThank you. Mark, the undocumented immigrant community was living with fear, even before this public health crisis. What were some of the challenges that undocumented residents in this region were facing before the pandemic began?

  • 12:36:16

    EDBERGWell, I think some of it is referred to by our CASA friend there, and that is that the Trump administration immigration policies have really inspired a lot of fear in the community. And what that means, on the ground, is that people are afraid to go get help. And they're afraid to go get help for anything. So, if it was a problem with housing, a health problem, any other situation like that, people are just afraid to raise their profile, raise their head in any way.

  • 12:36:45

    EDBERGSo, that was there before COVID, and with COVID, that’s just accentuated. And if you combine that with the job loss and the other things that are happening, I mean, just picture a situation where you've got a family. And there are several people in the family who were working. And now they're not, or now maybe one person is working, and others are not eligible for those benefits. People have to crowd together, because they may not be able to pay their rent. They're afraid to go get help. And so you've really compounded the situation that was already difficult.

  • 12:37:27

    NNAMDIWell, let's go to Patrick, in Silver Spring, Maryland. Patrick, you are on the air. Patrick, go ahead, please. Patrick seemed to have stepped away from his phone for a while. But it is my understanding that Patrick wanted to know, if these people are undocumented immigrants of here, then they're obviously citizens of other countries. Why can't they approach their embassies here and get their embassies to take care of them? Cathryn Ann Paul?

  • 12:37:55

    PAULWell, you know, that's a great question. I will say, there are many different reasons why people are undocumented here. And they're here for a variety of different reasons. Sometimes it's not safe for them to do so. You know, we have around 6 million, 62 eligible documented immigrants who are eligible for DACA, the Deferred Action for Child Arrival programs, who can be here, right.

  • 12:38:22

    PAULJust last month, there was a study showing that there's 280 undocumented health care workers. I think what we need to start thinking about is that these are the people who are contributing to our society. That these are the people who are paying taxes. These are the people who are taking care of our babies, right. Why do we not have a responsibility to care for them?

  • 12:38:46

    NNAMDIMark Edberg, in Langley Park, Maryland, 70 percent of adults are not U.S. citizens. You have spent a great deal of time there. How is that community doing right now?

  • 12:38:57

    EDBERGWell, that community's in a dire situation, for some of the reasons that I just described. But I just want to add one point. When we use the term undocumented, really, undocumented does not mean, you know, either/or. There are a lot of people who are -- technically, they're undocumented, but they're in the process of getting documentation. And that, as you know, take a long, long time.

  • 12:39:22

    EDBERGSo, it's a really gray area, when you say someone is undocumented, or even when statistics refer to people who are documented versus not. There are a lot of people who are in that process. But, yes, in Langley Park, it's a very, very difficult situation. I mean, people -- imagine trying to -- even if you have the information about social distancing and things like that, and I've heard many, many stories about this in Langley Park, where if people tried to, let's say, quarantine themselves -- I recently heard a story about a woman who was basically trying to quarantine herself in a closet, because they're in dwellings that -- you know, they're in apartment buildings or wherever else where, again, they have to be -- they're more crowded then would be normal because of the job loss situation.

  • 12:40:14

    EDBERGSo, there's fear that I've talked about before and others have talked about, and that is compounded in Langley Park. And then there is that issue of lack of access, lack of access to benefits. And it's -- on the good side I would say that in Langley Park, particularly over the last number of years, there has been an increasing influx of community-based organizations, including CASA, Mary Center, Clinic at El Pueblo, the Latin American Youth Center, Sentronia and others that are trusted organizations. And it's very -- you know, that is a very important asset.

  • 12:40:52

    NNAMDIHere is an individual who would like to remain anonymous, but would like to be heard on this issue. You are now on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:41:02

    ANONYMOUS CALLERHello, Kojo. How you doing? I'm an immigrant, and my kids (unintelligible) so I do not receive any asylum status. I have a valid working permit. I'm still working essential business, but I did not receive the stimulus package. Because, like the undocumented immigrants, it also excluded asylum (unintelligible) who did not receive asylum yet, because I believe they are considered non-resident aliens.

  • 12:41:37

    NNAMDIYep. And that is your situation, too.

  • 12:41:41

    CALLERYes, sir.

  • 12:41:43

    NNAMDICathryn Ann Paul, how familiar does that story sound to you?

  • 12:41:47

    PAULIt sounds so familiar, and I want to say thank you so much for calling in and sharing that story. It's so important that people hear this. You know, as the doctor just explained, being undocumented is complicated. You can be in a process, right. You can have work authorization, you know. And, you know, I want to bring this back to the federal funding, because it's a nightmare that our government has failed immigrants in this way, right.

  • 12:42:17

    PAULIt is a myth that undocumented immigrants do not pay taxes. And I know, because I volunteer to file taxes for undocumented families at CASA for many years. You know, despite paying billions of dollars, they're not eligible for the stimulus tax. And, you know, that's $2.2 trillion that is not going to everyone.

  • 12:42:37

    PAULYou know, and I also want to lift up -- you know, this applies to mixed-status families as well. So, if there's just one undocumented member on that tax return, no one's getting anything. You know, CASA actually recently just filed a lawsuit with the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection that challenges the discriminatory exclusion of U.S. citizen children from the benefits of emergency cash assistance. You know, the Trump administration is discriminating against these children just because one or both of their parents are undocumented, and it's terrible.

  • 12:43:13

    NNAMDIWhat is the outcome you're hoping for with that lawsuit?

  • 12:43:18

    PAULWell, you know, I think if you are undocumented, you should be getting a check, right. But this particular lawsuit is focused on if the law says a U.S. citizen child gets $500, then they need to get it. That's the outcome we're looking for. And if the Trump administration's going to leave them out because of the status of their parents, then that's discrimination, and it's wrong.

  • 12:43:44

    NNAMDIMark Edberg, on yesterday's show we discussed the pandemic of 1918. And Author John Barry detailed two lessons learned from the Spanish Flu, which came up in the first part of this broadcast today. One is that the government must tell the truth. The other is to practice social distancing. And he explained how the two are related, and that you can't really get social distancing to work if the government is not transparent and truthful. How is the undocumented community getting its information? And can they trust the information they're getting? Mark Edberg?

  • 12:44:18

    EDBERGYeah, and that's a really good question, worth even an entire show, because there is information out there in Spanish put out by various organizations, including health departments. But a lot of that information is really not sufficiently getting to the community. And lots of myths and home remedies and all kinds of other things are, you know, sort of commonly talked about.

  • 12:44:45

    EDBERGAnd the other thing that's important is that you can't just put out information about social distancing as if everyone is in an equal situation to be able to carry that out. I mean, again, imagine that situation, where you're in an apartment and you've got a couple of families in there. Even if people know about social distancing, how are they really going to do it?

  • 12:45:07

    EDBERGSo, the information that needs to go out there, you know, needs to be tailored toward the real situation of people. How do you do that when you're in that kind of situation? How can you social distance? What are some practical and realistic ways to do it? And that is an effort, not just for the Latino immigrant community, but for a lot of the underserved communities that are affected by COVID. That really needs to be addressed. So, there is some communication. It is just not sufficiently tailored toward the situation of this immigrant community.

  • 12:45:41

    NNAMDICathryn Ann Paul, same question to you.

  • 12:45:45

    PAULYeah, I mean, what we're hearing from the president is outrageous. Just flat-out, wrong information. You know, in this case, the trust is already broken between undocumented immigrants, and immigrants, period, who are looking for information on what to do. And I will say that, you know, we have really had to work very hard with our counties to make sure that the right information is going out there, and that, you know, our counties and the state is really stepping up to make sure that these folks are protected.

  • 12:46:24

    NNAMDIHere now is Ray in Fairfax, Virginia. Ray, you're on the air. Well, you're not quite yet, but -- now you are. Ray, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:46:33

    RAYYeah, I don't think it's fair, either. I mean, you've got people like Bezos and Trump who don't pay any taxes. These people pay taxes, and we won't even give them the 600 bucks? That just seems ridiculous to me. And I'll take my answer off the air.

  • 12:46:48

    NNAMDIWell, I'm glad you brought that up, because here's a short clip, courtesy of The Hill, of New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking about the undocumented immigrants in this country.

  • 12:47:01

    ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZIf these big corporations don't pay taxes, but they're getting bailed out by the federal government, why are we cutting out undocumented people who are actually paying more taxes than these other folks?

  • 12:47:14

    NNAMDICathryn Ann Paul, Mark Edberg, I'd like to hear your comments about that, because it's in line with what our last caller Ray just said. First you, Cathryn Ann Paul.

  • 12:47:24

    PAULYou know, she's great, and I really applaud her for being such a champion for our communities. She's spot on. She is spot on. We need to make sure that every single one of our members of society are taken care of, right. We are talking about, again, undocumented immigrants being essential workers, Being our health care workers, right. These are the people who are saving our lives, who are now and have been in limbo, waiting for Supreme Court decisions on DACA, waiting for a decision on TPS. They're working on the frontlines.

  • 12:48:00

    PAULSo, imagine working on the frontlines, savings lives, risking your own life while you wait for the government to decide if you belong here and if you're worth saving.

  • 12:48:10

    NNAMDISame question to you, Mark Edberg. Our caller pointing out that there are large corporations that don't pay taxes, and yet they're getting help from the federal government. But the undocumented immigrants, many of whom on the frontlines of this epidemic, are not.

  • 12:48:27

    EDBERGYeah, I would agree with everything that's said. I mean, again, just thinking about, we're talking many people who are essential workers and who perform essential services. I mean, that's very important. And it goes back, in a certain way, to -- you know, there's a long chain that goes back to our inability to pass any kind of rational immigration legislation, which is putting these people in limbo in the first place.

  • 12:48:53

    EDBERGSo, you've got a long chain of events putting them in limbo, people who are essential workers not getting benefits. And there is a whole chain of events that needs to be addressed, and is not, by this administration.

  • 12:49:08

    NNAMDICathryn Ann Paul, are you hopeful that something will be done at the federal level for the millions of undocumented persons in this country?

  • 12:49:17

    PAULYou know, a new election on the horizon, of course, makes me hopeful. But, unfortunately, over and over again, we have seen the federal government deny people what they need to be getting. You know, I will say I am very hopeful. We have been working with, you know, our state legislators. We have been working with our county executives. And I'm hopeful that, at least on that level, we'll get some real leadership.

  • 12:49:47

    NNAMDIMaria called to ask: what food banks in the area support undocumented immigrants? Cathryn Ann Paul?

  • 12:49:56

    PAULLuckily, most of the food banks in the area are supporting undocumented immigrants. But, you know, we're still facing a lot of challenges there. We still have language barriers. We still have a lot of barriers with outreach, right. The government or the county governments might not be sending out the information properly or having issues reaching undocumented immigrants. CASA has launched a food assistance program, so we have been distributing food to kind of work on that. But reach out to us. We are You can find 20-plus pages of resources on where you can find food.

  • 12:50:32

    NNAMDIAnd Mark Edberg, talk a little bit about how those residents in Langley Park are making out, especially for food for meals.

  • 12:50:41

    EDBERGYeah, I mean, I think it is a serious issue. As Cathryn mentioned, CASA -- I think there are other organizations, you know, Mary's Center and others, that are attempting to distribute food. But I think, you know, it's a major crisis, and it's a major crisis in a community that already was economically stressed and, you know, had issues in terms of being able to access healthy food, in particular.

  • 12:51:09

    EDBERGSo, it's an issue. It's compounded by COVID, and some of the efforts that Cathryn talked about, about trying to, you know, conduct outreach are themselves compounded, you know, by COVID in the sense that trying to get people in person to go out and find out who needs what and who needs help, it's a difficult situation. And it just stresses the need for, you know, kind of social safety net organizations, whether they're nonprofits, whether they're faith organizations and everything else, to be supported and have some, you know, logistical funding and other support to be able to do this. Because it's those organizations on the ground that are doing what they can about this, at this point, in terms of food.

  • 12:51:58

    NNAMDIHere is Susan in Delaware. Susan, your turn.

  • 12:52:02

    SUSANHi. I just wanted to share a story. Yesterday, I had a tele-health conference with my doctor. And she mentioned to me that she ended up with the COVID virus. And because she treats a lot of people who are Hispanic and work in agriculture, you know, and the chicken farms, things like that are processing. And they don't speak English. They have no concept of what this virus is, how you spread it, anything. And, you know, that's what's caused so many of them to be sick.

  • 12:52:36

    SUSANAnd it's so unfair, because they have -- like, there's just no resource for them to be able to get the information they need to keep themselves safe. And yet, you know, the president is ordering that these places stay open. I mean, it's criminal. So that was my two cents.

  • 12:52:50

    NNAMDIThank you very much. Underscoring the notion that undocumented immigrants are not necessarily getting the kind of information that they need. Cathryn Ann Paul, Jan called to ask: I live in Montgomery County, and I want to help, but I can't speak Spanish and can't afford to donate money. Are there other ways I can help?

  • 12:53:12

    PAULYes, absolutely. I mean, donating is not the only way you can help. You can volunteer. You can volunteer at one of our food distribution sites. The numbers are growing and growing of people who need food. And the numbers are growing and growing for volunteers that we need. But I'll say, aside from volunteering, there is a huge need for people to speak out and call on our government.

  • 12:53:41

    PAULYou know, in Maryland particular, we need to continue to call on Governor Hogan. We have reached out to him with a long list of items that he needs to implement as soon as possible regarding rent, regarding funding, regarding, you know, protecting workers. And he hasn't responded yet. So, what I would say is, what you can do is start reaching out. Start writing letters. Start calling. Start engaging our government officials.

  • 12:54:08

    NNAMDIFinally, Cathryn Ann, there are temporary moratoriums on evictions in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. But what happens to the undocumented, many of who have not worked and have not received any aid when that moratorium is lifted?

  • 12:54:22

    PAULYeah, it's a scary thought. It's a scary thought. You know, we've been hearing from our members that rent is the biggest issue that they're facing right now. You know, when the moratorium ends, what they're looking at is homelessness. There's no way that they're going to be able to pay all of that rent that's compiled over the several months of the state of emergency. You know, the moratorium needs to be extended at least one year beyond the state of emergency, and probably even longer.

  • 12:54:55

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's just about all the time we have. Cathryn Ann Paul is a research and policy analyst at CASA. Cathryn Ann Paul, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:55:04

    PAULThank you so much for lifting us up. I appreciate it.

  • 12:55:07

    NNAMDIMark Edberg is a professor at George Washington University in the Prevention and Community Health Department. Mark Edberg, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:55:14

    EDBERGAnd thank you. Thank you for having me.

  • 12:55:17

    NNAMDIThis segment on undocumented immigrants and how they are faring during the pandemic was produced by Kurt Gardinier. And our conversation about coronavirus spikes in Virginia poultry plants was produced by Richard Cunningham.

  • 12:55:29

    NNAMDIBefore we wrap up, I have a question for you: how are you parenting during the pandemic? We're hosting a virtual Kojo in Your Community event tonight with parenting experts to answer this question. And we will be taking questions from our audience. The event starts at 7:00 p.m., and it is free, but you do have to preregister by 3:00 p.m. today to get the link. You can find all those details at Hope to see you there. Until then, thank you for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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