It’s been over 200 days since the first COVID-19 relief package was signed into law. In a short time, immigrant communities across the country will once again find out where they stand in our leaders’ hearts and minds. Congress has passed not one, but three COVID-19 relief packages that have excluded thousands of immigrants here in North Carolina and millions more nationwide. A legislative response that protects all people requires leadership by Senator Thom Tillis and Senator Richard Burr.
In North Carolina, 889,000 people live in families with at least one non-citizen, including 321,000 children. El Pueblo and other immigrant-serving organizations throughout the state recognize the gap in COVID relief for immigrant communities and have opened mutual aid funds and other services to address this gap. Our top priority has been to distribute direct financial assistance to those who are not receiving any government aid. The amount of need is both astounding and frightening as we have moved many months into this crisis. We know that we are not able to help everyone who has been excluded by congressional leaders.
Community members continue to request assistance to pay for rent, bills, utilities, food, and other basic needs due to loss of work and, increasingly, due to the economic impacts of having one or more loved ones who have been ill and/or hospitalized due to COVID. While we have been able to financially assist many families, our mutual aid funds are not the solution for the lack of action by congressional leaders. Our organizations are helping fill a gap that should not exist. We cannot afford to have gaps in relief to communities; not now, not ever.
The ultimate solution for our communities includes transformational change that would provide full inclusion for immigrants and other community members who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic due to systemic racism, xenophobia, and other barriers to health. A first step toward this solution would be for Senators Tillis and Burr to support the HEROES Act, an inclusive relief bill that was passed by the House in May.
My parents are immigrants that have shown me the importance of being in community with one another and of supporting each other when government support may or may not be available. In these times of hardship, I see my communities coming together every day to do our best to do what our leaders have failed to do. For months, the Senate has refused to advance this legislation while our communities have suffered. The HEROES Act, while not the ultimate solution for all of the challenges we face, includes critical provisions that would improve health care access and provide economic support for thousands of immigrant families in North Carolina. I urge Senators Tillis and Burr to support the HEROES Act and demonstrate what so many other North Carolinians like my parents are demonstrating every day: that the health and prosperity of each of us depends on the health and prosperity of all of us.
Veronica Aguilar is the Communications Coordinator for the Raleigh-based group, El Pueblo.