Shockwaves of COVID-19 shutdowns hits region’s immigrant community
- Special: Ongoing COVID-19 coverage
- School divisions begin prepping for online learning
- Parents are finding new ways to teach their kids at home
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses have closed, leaving hundreds of hourly employees, like workers in hotels and restaurants, reeling from suddenly being out of a job or severely reduced hours. Among the chief concerns is having enough money to pay rent.
Ahmed Mikhlif, who worked full time on cars for a Charlottesville company, said he’s been working about three to four days since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted local residents to distance themselves from others. He said he’s relying on organizations like International Neighbors for help because he’s going to need help buying cleaning supplies like toilet paper, Lysol and soap.
“Of course, I’m going to have problems paying rent. This is one of the major problems,” said Mikhlif, a father of four.
Although the number of refugees and immigrants living in Charlottesville and Albemarle County isn’t precisely known, there are many others like Mikhlif — including former truck driver Ahmed Alzerkani and housekeeper Liqaa Albehadili — who’ve worked hourly and are worried about paying rent and other expenses. Albehadili’s daughter, Renas, said her mom has been out of work for two weeks.
“It’s been very difficult to pay for rent,” said Renas, adding they’re also struggling to pay for utilities and grocery shopping.
Other immigrant groups, like the Latino community, will be facing several challenges as a result of the crisis, said Dr. Max Luna, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Virginia’s Specialty Care division of UVa Health.
About 60 million Latinos live in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center, adding that a great number of that population are employed in services industries, such as leisure and hospitality.
Latinos account for nearly 6% of the population in the county and 5.6 % in the city, 17 % of the nation and 11% of the state, Luna said, explaining that the numbers are expecting to grow in the next two decades.
Among the hurdles are a lack of access to regular medical care, job loss and language barriers that keep them from staying up to date to information pertaining to the pandemic, Luna said.
Between 10% to 20% of the materials on the Centers for Disease Control Prevention is translated into Spanish, he noted, adding as a solution the goal has been to educate people on how to translate information on their computers or mobile devices.
“We need to be able to welcome these people,” Luna said.
Luna, who founded the Latino Health Initiative, an organization empowering communities with health literacy, said many Latinos may not want to seek medical care because they fear that could have an impact on their immigration status, including those wanting to transition from having a visa to becoming a permanent resident or a green card.
Javier Raudales, client service coordinator of Sin Barreras, said he’s been making sure that the Latino community is updated on any messages pertaining to immigration since things are changing rapidly in response to the pandemic.
For example, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is suspending all in-person meetings until April 1.
Raudales also said that many people Sin Barreras serves mostly are concerned about employment and being able to pay for housing.
“If you’re not working, you’re not going to get a paycheck,” he said. “People are concerned about paying rent.”
Kari Miller, founder and executive director of International Neighbors, a nonprofit serving refugees and those qualified for a green card, also said most of the people she serves have been mainly concerned about paying rent.
The state on March 16 prohibited new eviction cases for those who cannot pay rent because of the pandemic crisis. And locally — once the emergency eviction suspension is lifted — those at risk of getting evicted can set up a payment plan through the Piedmont Housing Alliance’s prevention program.
Other concerns have come from refugees who are living below the poverty line and rely on the school divisions to feed their children.
In response to the closure of all K-12 schools for the remainder of the academic year, the school systems and other organizations have worked to make sure no children go hungry.
City and county schools have provided breakfast and lunch to children up to age 18. Last week, there was a coordinated effort between the local nonprofit PB&J Fund, area Parent-Teacher Organizations and other groups that help families who rely on the city school’s meals.
Miller said she has been making sure to distribute information about where the food deliveries are happening via texts, email or WhatsApp. To help family members who have lost their jobs, International Neighbors launched an emergency fundraiser, Neighbor Needs Emergency Fund.
Harriet Kuhr, executive director of the International Rescue Committee, which serves refugees, human trafficking victims and asylum seekers, said some of the people she serves work in the hospitality industry, which has experienced major layoffs.
She said her office helps these families filing for unemployment as well as keeping track of anything that they may qualify for. In addition to helping them via phone, her organization also is accepting in-person visits with scheduled appointments.
Angela Ciolfi, executive director of the Legal Aid Justice Center, said her organization has teamed up with partners across the nation to address the situation of those affected by the crisis, and they want public officials to take measures to protect low-income families and communities of color.
“We are asking schools to provide low-income students with access to technology and to remove barriers to school meals by widening pick-up windows, allowing any family member to pick up multiple meals and ensuring all students — regardless of age or their status — receive these services,” Ciolfi said in a Thursday statement.
In an effort to also help the Latino community, Creciendo Juntos Executive Director Karina Monroy said her organization has also been sending information to parents about the area’s food deliveries as well as educating families about other resources available to them, like applying for a grant through the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.
“Keep our community in mind in terms of resources,” Monroy said. “…. Show solidarity as well. I think … this could be an extra difficult time for our community who are undocumented. [Make] that community feel like they’re still part of this.”
International Neighbors Resource Page
International Neighbors Emergency Fund
International Rescue Committee
Advocate for the Legal Aid Justice Center