Sonia Pérez owes six months of rent, but doubts she can pay off her debt quickly: COVID-19 ended the life of her ex-husband, who helped her financially, and left the streets of her New York neighborhood half empty , so few buy from him the tamales he has been selling for 20 years.
In Miami, Nicaraguan Claudia lost her job when the restaurant where she worked closed due to the pandemic. He spent all his savings on food and rent and now juggles to survive.
‘I have no job, no money, nothing … zero. Nothing, ”said the woman, preferring not to give her last name because she is illegal in the country.
This is how 2020 has seen many Hispanics live in the United States.
The Hispanic community is one of the groups most affected by COVID-19, which has reduced or eliminated their income. Millions of people were also unable to access state aid because of their irregular immigration status. And a few don’t know if they will be able to float in 2021 – with a president more destined to help them and the advent of a vaccine.
Most Spanish immigrants work in sectors badly affected by the pandemic, such as gastronomy, hotels and construction. Others do so in agricultural and meat packers, where high contamination rates have been noted due to the lack of spacing and safety precautions.
According to the most recent federal data, 24% of COVID-19 cases in the United States are Hispanic and 14.7% of deaths. The death rate from COVID-19 among Hispanics is 2.8 times that of Caucasians, and the hospitalization rate is four times higher, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, for the acronym in English).
After a nine-month pandemic, the plague of the virus is now visible in the long lines that many stand in front of authorities offering food. In general, these are people who earn the minimum wage and do not have access to social services, health or economic aid, such as the $ 1,200 awarded by Congress to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic.
“There are those who are suffering in ways not seen before,” said state lawmaker Miguel Santiago, who represents a Los Angeles district with a large number of immigrants in the California legislature. “Our economic system has to work for the most vulnerable, if not, what kind of country are we?”
Before the pandemic, Pérez sold his tamales for two dollars. Now he’s selling them for three because the prices of ingredients, such as corn tortillas, rose after the arrival of COVID-19. And she also meets many immigrants on the street who, after losing their jobs, became street vendors like her.
“Many people have taken to the streets to survive,” said the 50-year-old Mexican who supports three of her four children and has to pay $ 1,000 a month in rent. “You hardly saw any salespeople in this area. Now the street is full on Saturday and Sunday ”.
Pérez came to the United States in 1994 and lived in the country with no immigration status until he recently got a U visa, which protects victims of domestic violence. Because she did not have a Social Security number, until recently she could not rely on the federal aid available at the time.
Unemployment among Hispanics grew from 4.8% in February to a peak of 18.5% in April. In October, the most recent figure was 8.5%, according to statistics from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a Washington research center.
The impact of the pandemic was felt in every home.
According to an MPI survey based on census data, 16% of Spanish households “sometimes” or “often” did not have enough to eat in September. The figure is more than double the 7% of non-Hispanic white households who were in the same situation.
This is the case with the Guatemalan Doris Vásquez, the sole supporter of her three children. To keep from going hungry, she stands in a long queue at 5:00 a.m. and receives a free box of food delivered by a community organization in Homestead, south of Miami.
The 37-year-old woman, who is in the process of asylum, lost her job because the nursery where she had been repairing plants for four years was closed due to the pandemic.
She stayed at home to take care of her children because classes were suspended face to face and then she fell ill with COVID-19. It took about six months for him to find work in another nursery, which also closed. Now she cooks rice pudding and tamales and sells them on the streets on weekends, but the money isn’t enough.
In Miami, the restaurant where Claudia worked as a kitchen assistant for four years closed at the start of the pandemic and the Nicaraguan ran out of $ 500 a week to support her four children. He had to use his savings to pay for rent, food, electricity and water, but they also ran out.
After nine months without work, he eventually found one in the kitchen of another restaurant twice a week. However, the income is not enough.
“I am very scared,” admitted the woman, whose husband was deported to Nicaragua six years ago. “I’m just asking the Lord not to get sick, because if not, who is going to take care of my children?”
The outlook for 2021 is uncertain.
“What could help Hispanics the most would be what would help any other worker,” said Daniel Costa, an expert on labor issues at the Economic Policy Institute, referring to the passing of a law providing economic aid and work permits to immigrants. that perform essential tasks.
California and several cities, such as New York, have paid money for immigrants without immigration status. But according to aid groups and activists, they were not enough and it is necessary to repeat these initiatives.
President-elect Joe Biden is expected to deliver on his promise to temporarily suspend deportations and implement a system that prioritizes the repatriation of immigrants who have committed crimes, similar to the one in place during the last years of the United States. presidency of Barack Obama.
“At least that would provide some relief to workers without legal permission,” Costa said.