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How COVID-19 is Affecting Immigrants this Fall

A CIANA Explains blog post from July examined the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on New York City immigrant communities, particularly on those undocumented. In this post, we take a deeper look into how these immigrant communities are faring as we enter the fall. 

Economic impact

Undocumented workers are essential to the U.S. economy, yet their unemployment rates and wages have been the most adversely affected by the recent economic devastation. A study published by the Center for an Urban Future found that 50% of New York’s undocumented immigrants have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Unable to receive government aid such as cash assistance, unemployment insurance, food stamps, rent subsidies, etc., unemployed undocumented immigrants are left especially vulnerable. More than 722,000 undocumented residents and their families did not recieve the $1,200 stimulus check due to their citizenship status. Furthermore, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s eviction moratorium extension did not cover the residences of undocumented individuals who did not qualify or were unable to apply for unemployment insurance. According to a UCLA study, the exclusion of undocumented individuals from the federal aid has resulted in a $10 billion loss in economic output. The neglect of undocumented individuals’ economic well-being is reason for serious public concern. 

For immigrants who remain employed, the fear of being fired due to the mandated 14-day quarantine can be equally stressful. Former employees of FDR Services, a company that cleans linens from New York City hospitals and nursing homes, came forward with stories of being fired after returning to work from COVID-19 mandated sick leave. There is an ongoing investigation into this particular case, but it does not seem to be isolated. As NYC has been slowly reopening, many undocumented individuals have been forced to choose between getting sick at work, or losing their jobs by staying healthy at home. 

Educational impact

As NYC public schools resume their fall classes, there is ongoing debate among city officials between continuing remotely, returning in-person, or a hybrid of the two. The NYC Department of Education outlined a system where students would have staggered schedules, rotating in groups between in-person and remote learning, in order to comply with COVID-19 safety guidelines.

It is still unclear how safety guidelines will work and if they will be equally enforced throughout the city. The president of the United Federation of Teachers said that he is concerned about the city’s response to improving testing lags and about working with the city Department of Health based on how the spring semester went. The plans are likely to remain ambiguous and will be adjusted accordingly as the pandemic progresses.

While remote learning may be the safer option, it has exacerbated inequalities of language and technology access, posing greater difficulties for immigrants. A report published by the Center for an Urban Future and New York’s Immigration Coalition found that “immigrant families face multiple unique barriers to successful at-home learning. For parents lacking English language literacy, providing educational oversight is especially challenging. Insufficient access to tech and/or high-speed internet has prevented students from keeping up with their assignments. And overcrowding in already cramped apartments has made it a struggle for many families to create productive learning environments.” Moreover, many immigrant students whose parents work on the frontlines of the pandemic are tasked with caring for younger siblings or relatives, which can make remote instruction especially challenging.

Immigration enforcement impact

NYC courts have been facing unprecedented challenges as well. In the last few months, NYC immigration courts have seen a significant backlog due to taking on both new deportation cases and reopening old cases. Many hearings have been cancelled because of the COVID-19 shutdowns and court closures, resulting in longer stays in detention centers and 300,000 delayed removal proceedings. Some individuals have spent months in these centers, waiting to find out if they can legally stay in the country. While the delays are inconvenient, they are also dangerous. Many of the centers are not implementing the adequate COVID-19 health guidelines, and the testing is both limited and sporadic. The deaths in these detention centers and the threat of detainees getting COVID-19 is both unacceptable yet they are also sadly preventable.    

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrest raids have begun again after a brief pause this past spring. Since July, ICE agents have taken more than 2,000 people into custody. Although officials say they are targeting individuals with criminal convictions or pending criminal charges, the government’s data itself shows that 15% of the recent arrests were those who have committed only minor crimes, or no crimes at all.  


As the cold weather approaches and the city continues reopening, NYC is beginning to witness a spike in COVID-19 cases. Staying healthy and stopping the spread has never been more important. Physically distancing, wearing face coverings, and getting tested protect everyone, especially vulnerable populations and essential workers, many of whom are part of immigrant communities. 


COVID-19 Resources:

Guidance from the CDC

NYC Testing Sites (Free and confidential)


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