Oregon fund has distributed over $60 million to undocumented workers blocked from federal aid

Oregon fund has distributed over $60 million to undocumented workers blocked from federal aid

The Oregon fund for undocumented workers excluded from federal pandemic relief due to their legal status has distributed more than $60 million in survival checks to over 37,000 people in the state, The Oregonian reports. Advocates said money has gone to excluded workers in nearly every county, the majority of them workers in either agriculture or food processing.

While families are still in need of continued aid—recall they’ve been shut out of all help since last year—the fund has nevertheless been a lifeline. “Excluding immigrants from desperately-needed relief based on their legal status left Oregon families and communities at severe risk as folks have struggled to pay rent, put food on the table, pay for health care, and keep utilities on during the pandemic,” Causa Oregon interim Executive Director Isa Peña told The Oregonian.

“The Oregon Worker Relief Fund has offered relief funding for immigrant communities impacted by the pandemic, grants for agricultural workers who have had to quarantine due to COVID-19 and money to support immigrant-owned small businesses,” The Oregonian reported. It’s raised about $110 million through a mixture of private and public funds, half of it through the state legislature. “However, organizations advocating for the fund say more money is needed to support immigrant communities across the state.”

As noted in the fight to secure relief for excluded workers in New Jersey, undocumented workers were blocked from all rounds of federal relief in 2020 and 2021 even as they paid into the system through their tax dollars. While Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy this month announced a $40 million fund for excluded workers, “[g]roups representing the workers on Friday called it an important first step but fear it still won’t be enough to help the community,” NJ.com reported. In next door New York, excluded workers won a historic $2.1 billion relief fund.

Like New Jersey and New York, Oregon has a sizable immigrant population, the American Immigration Council (AIC) said: “More than two-fifths of Oregon’s farmers, fishers, and foresters are immigrants, as are over one-fifth of all production employees.” Overall, 110,000 undocumented immigrants, including nearly 10,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, call the state home. Nearly 90,000 U.S. citizens in the state have at least one family member who is undocumented, the group said. “Immigrant Oregonians are a vital part of our state, but many were intentionally excluded from federal pandemic relief,” Peña told The Oregonian.

While mixed-status immigrant families (where one spouse is undocumented and the other is a U.S. citizen) who were initially denied survival checks were eventually included in subsequent pandemic relief, undocumented families have remained shut out entirely, highlighting the ongoing importance of state relief like the Oregon Worker Relief Fund (though it should still be the federal government’s job). 

“As the pandemic drags on, we must continue to invest in Oregon workers who continue to be left out of federal unemployment and stimulus programs,” Jose Cruz of Innovation Law Lab told The Oregonian. “The scope of the extreme economic hardship caused by the pandemic and longstanding inequities is vast. The contributions to Oregon Worker Relief during its first year, while significant, are not sufficient to meet the need we face.”

In other pro-worker developments in the state, advocates have also been pressing the state legislature to pass a law that would guarantee farmworkers overtime protections. “For many years, I’ve worked earning the minimum wage, doing very heavy work and working long hours and even without having my rights respected,” farmworker Marela León testified to legislators, Street Roots reported. “Farmworkers work under very difficult conditions, even under the conditions of the bosses. We suffer many injustices, and out of fear, we do not say anything.”

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