COVID-19 Resources for Undocumented Workers in Washington, DC
Over the last few weeks I’ve seen the industry that raised me, shaken to its core. Every day I’ve been on the phone with friends and colleagues listening to some heartbreaking stories; some losing their jobs, others losing their businesses. In our conversations I can feel the weight of how the impact of our current events extends far beyond themselves and expands to every person who depends on them. For some, it’s laying off a kitchen team, or for others it’s calling families here or back in their home countries to let them know money won’t be coming this month.
COVID-19, or coronavirus, is the only thing everybody is talking about these days, for good reason. It has been hitting the US economy in so many different ways, some we have yet to see. One of the largest immediately impacted factions is in the restaurant and hospitality industry which have grown exponentially over the last 10 years.
If you have read any of my previous posts, you know I cook professionally and spend the majority of my time in restaurants alongside some of the hardest working people on the planet. Line cooks, prep cooks, dishwashers, porters, night cleaners, servers, bussers, food runners, delivery drivers, farmers, amongst many others. In Washington, DC (and I’m certain in most of the rest of the country) most of these jobs are filled with a myriad of nationalities, namely Latin American. Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and others.
While nearly all Americans are feeling the economic impact of the coronavirus, many are likely to dismiss concerns about the undocumented community. However, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a food industry (from farms to restaurants) without the labor of undocumented workers. Truer words have not been spoken as by our late friend Anthony Bourdain: “Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are stealing American jobs. But in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had one American kid walk in my door and apply for a dishwashing job, a porter’s position or even a job as prep cook.” Similarly, in my decade and a half, I have yet to experience this. The immigrant, and more specifically, undocumented labor force is one that is too often erased and taken for granted by both those who frequent restaurants, as well as those who run them. Whether or not people want to admit it, without the participation of undocumented workers, the restaurant industry would crumble. As such it feels irresponsible as a chef, community member and most importantly as an immigrant myself to shrug away the heavy importance of showing up for these people.
Due to the nature of the industry, many people who work in restaurants are juggling multiple, low-paying jobs that extend far beyond the traditional 40 hour work week. Typically, an hourly cook will work anywhere between 8–10 hours at one job. However, to ensure a living wage, most cooks have two jobs at two different restaurants and spend their “break” in between, commuting by foot, bus, or bicycle when they aren’t lucky enough to have a vehicle. Very little time off is offered and they always prioritize their jobs and livelihood first, over their own health, as they often have many people that depend on them here, and back in their home countries.
Even without a national pandemic, restaurants routinely struggle to stay staffed. It’s no secret that most industries rely on the immigrant community, which makes up 5% of the American workforce, roughly about 8 million people. Of those 8 million, roughly 12% are in hospitality. For those who have never worked in a restaurant and enjoy dining out, it’s crucial to recognize that without these individuals, your favorite eating establishments would be unable to survive.
As the crisis is happening in real time and the situation is changing from day to day, people are taking precautions to save their businesses and making hard decisions to cut staff. Being an undocumented worker means that in addition to the long hours and low pay experienced by many who work in restaurants, their immigration status is often abused and they are unable to access programs such as unemployment, health care, and other government supported aid programs.
Currently, large groups of hospitality workers are rallying to provide solutions and relief in every way they can. While all workers across the hospitality industry deserve and require support, the problem here is that the programs being created and shared out are not targeted at the undocumented community and will more than likely not reach this particular audience. Often, if and when the information reaches them, undocumented immigrants are often faced with an additional language barrier, and little to any material in other languages being circulated around these initiatives. Another consideration is that once we get over this crisis and the economy begins to recover, it does not immediately mean that all restaurant workers who lost their jobs will be able to immediately return to work.
How you can help:
It should come as no surprise that hospitality workers cannot work from home, and most restaurants are not financially capable of supporting paid time off for employees, let along those who are undocumented. I want to encourage individuals both inside and outside of the restaurant community to utilize crowdsourcing online to support undocumented workers.
If you are able, please use, and encourage others to to donate to initiatives and platforms such as GoFundMe, Venmo, Cashapp, ApplePay accounts dedicated to supporting undocumented workers.
While I join efforts to self-isolate, I will continue to help organize and mobilize digitally to collect and connect information and resources. Using this platform, I hope to amplify community voices and crowdsourcing pages of community members who have lost their jobs during this time, share resources that are of specific help to Washington, DC’s undocumented service workers, and share information that is centered on education, awareness, and creating solutions.
(This resource bank is an organic, living guide which I will update as we move forward and more information becomes available. Spanish translated document in progress)
COVID-19 Mutual Aid Support Network by itsgoingdown.org (English) (**New 3.30.20**)
Resources for the Immigrant Community by InformedImmigrant (English/Spanish) (**New 3.30.20**)
FAQ on Coronavirus Sheets (Spanish, English, Portuguese)
Basic information on coronavirus from the CDC (Spanish)
Basic information on coronavirus from Hesperian Health Guides (English, Spanish, Bengali, Chinese, Filipino, French, Urdu)
Flyer on coronavirus prevention from the CDC (Spanish)
Infographic on coronavirus from LA County Public Health (Spanish)
Information on importance of handwashing from CDC (Spanish)
Resources, general information, infographics, and tips for children and families (Spanish)
Nationwide Relief Bank from Undocuscholars (English)
Relief Information Bank from Friends & Family Meal (English)
Relief Information Bank from @joseiswriting (English)
Information on Undocumented Workman’s Comp in DC (English)
Immigrant Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits (Spanish)
Immigrant Women Domestic Violence Aid (Spanish)
Important Updates on Employer Relief and Employee Benefits by RAMW (English)
DC Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs (English)
Immigration Status and Undocumented Worker Rights Sheet (Spanish)
Tangible Support Sheet from Immigrants Rising (English)
FREE MEALS FOR KIDS:
Good Company Donuts
Good Stuff Eatery
We, The Pizza
Santa Rosa Taqueria
MGM Roast Beef
Po Boy Jim
Think Food Group
WJLA list for the DC, Matyland, Virginia Areas
DC Food Project
Another Round Another Rally
Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation Announces COVID19 Crisis Relief Fund
US Bartenders Guild COVID19 Relief Fund
Nationwide Relief Bank from Undocuscholars
AYUDA DC COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund