Nos Cuida La Comunidad: Cosecha’s COVID-19 Fund for Undocumented Workers has Redistributed $1 Million
Four and a half months ago, on March 22, Movimiento Cosecha launched a national COVID-19 mutual aid fund by and for undocumented immigrants.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to devastate our communities, we are proud to share that the Undocumented Worker Fund has successfully redistributed $1,000,000 to families in need.
The ongoing public health crisis has shown us el estado no nos cuida, nos cuida la comunidad. The government does not take care of us, the community does.
Under the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of us have been labeled essential, forced to work under dangerous conditions to sustain the economy. Many others have lost our jobs and sources of income. At the same time, we have been denied access to even the most basic government aid, such as health insurance, unemployment benefits, or stimulus checks.
The truth is we have always sustained this country’s economy with our work and with the billions of dollars we pay in taxes — and we have always been excluded from essential benefits and services. Now, as this exclusion threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions of families, undocumented immigrants are fighting and organizing to support each other. In our first Undocumented Worker Fund report, we explained how Cosecha’s undocumented leaders designed and set up the Undocumented Worker Fund.
Here, we will share updates from the last two months about our redistribution of funds, including the successes and challenges of this project. A few highlights from this report:
- In total, we have redistributed $1,001,100 directly to 3,337 undocumented families
- Our application did not just bring families from our Cosecha network, but rather strived to be accessible across the country to places where support has been hard to reach. We have disbursed funds to 38 states.
- We have followed up with hundreds of additional applicants about resources available to them outside of our fund, as well as opportunities for them to organize for dignified living in their community
- We reached our second fundraising goal of $1,500,000, with donations from 14,248 donors
- We onboarded 20 new volunteer leaders to help follow up with applications, including making hundreds of calls to applicants each week
Reopening applications to the fund
We first opened applications to the Undocumented Worker Fund in early April. After receiving over 1,300 applications, we decided to close applications while we redistributed the funds already requested and increased the capacity of our volunteer fund committees.
By May, Cosecha had disbursed over $300,000 to families and fundraised enough to reopen applications. With an expanded new team of volunteers trained to make approval calls, we determined we had the funds and capacity to accept 2,500 new applicants.
The Undocumented Worker Fund application went live on May 22 at 7:00 PM EST. We received approximately 1,000 applicants within the first 10 minutes and many people reported errors trying to access and the submit the application, due to overwhelming traffic to the page. By 7:25, we had already hit our limit of 2,500.
It took us approximately 7 additional minutes to access and close the application, because we also experienced errors accessing our website. In this time, we received 2,300 additional applications. In total, we received 5,000 applications submitted to our fund in the span of 30 minutes.
This moment was a reminder of the desperation in our community and how dangerous this crisis has been for immigrant families and workers. We know that the Undocumented Worker Fund cannot meet all the need in our community, or even all of the needs for an individual family.
That’s why Cosecha strives to operate the fund in a way that prioritizes the dignity of all applicants and volunteers, as one part of our larger fight for permanent protection, dignity, and respect. We are still currently in the process of reviewing the additional applications submitted on May 22. The fund remains closed to additional applicants, though we have a sign up list for those who want to be informed if we are able to open applications again.
Support and solidarity with our community
The Undocumented Worker Fund has redistributed $1,001,100 to 3,337 undocumented individuals and families directly affected by the pandemic. This modest support has helped struggling households cover some of their monthly expenses, such as groceries, utilities, and rent.
For example, Gissell, a fund recipient from New Jersey, shared:
This time has been really hard for us because we don’t have support from the government. I have not been able to work for two months and my husband has been working less. I am going to use the funds to finish paying my rent. Thank you for this aid for the immigrant community, it’s a blessing for our family.
Beyond direct financial support, fund recipients have also expressed appreciation for being offered respect, hope, and solidarity amid the pandemic. While the government leaders ignore undocumented immigrants during this time — or even blames us for spreading COVID-19 and mass unemployment in the U.S. — organized mutual aid validates the struggle we are all facing and reminds our community that we do deserve more.
One fund recipient from Massachusetts, Gloria, shared:
I was blessed to be a beneficiary of the help that you provide to the people who are unprotected by the government. Thanks to your support, many families will have bread on their tables. I think the causes that the movement advances in communities that are unprotected seem very beautiful.
I see people of different ethnicities, political affiliations, religions, social causes, unite in compassion and love for those that have been left behind. And, well, I am open for the moment when I can be useful to Movimiento Cosecha, to get involved in some way. The people like those in this movement are giving us a way of saying “we have hope”. It is like a way of saying, do not lose the vision, it is possible that there is still a trace of humanity in some. So this encourages someone like me to continue, away from one’s home, one’s country, away from the things I love.
Solidarity and mutual aid — not charity
Donations that are redistributed through the Undocumented Worker Fund come from thousands of diverse grassroots donors across the country.
Because our fund is undocumented-led and administered, the relationship between volunteers and applicants is grounded in principles of mutual aid, not charity. Haydi, a Cosecha volunteer organizer involved with the fund committee in New Jersey, explains why this is important and how it shapes her interactions with applicants from the community:
When I call people, I tell them that I’m undocumented, too. I say, I also don’t have papers. My father lost his job. We are a part of the community and my parents were able to get support from a local mutual aid fund in Virginia. This is how our community takes care of us.
The volunteers calling applicants and making decisions about the fund are undocumented, too. A big part of the project is about connecting with others in our community and showing them what we can accomplish together if we are organized. That’s what really makes the Undocumented Worker Fund unique.
The Undocumented Worker Fund committee, which includes immigrant leaders from the states where Cosecha is currently organizing programs and campaigns (Michigan, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Georgia, Indiana, and Texas), meets weekly to discuss and monitor all aspects of the fund.
Recently, the fund committee has discussed expanding the vision of the fund to include more ways for the applicants to get access to resources as well as trainings to help more people get involved in organizing their community. Our vision as a movement has always been the same — to have undocumented immigrants build people power across the country!
Where we go from here
For the time being, the Undocumented Worker Fund remains closed to new applications while we continue to process existing ones and redistribute funds. Our team of volunteers is working tirelessly to make phone calls daily to applicants across the country. Many of our volunteers are also working on local campaigns in addition to their work on the fund and their regular jobs.
It is important to us that the administrative work of the fund is volunteer-led, though we recognize there has been a learning curve as we continue to grow our capacity to process applications. Building the infrastructures that our movement will need to continue to face this pandemic and beyond as we fight for permanent protection, dignity and respect.
Because application review is done by volunteers, and because we received thousands more applications that we initially had capacity for, there are still several hundred pending applications from those submitted on May 22. We apologize for this delay. Applicants have been receiving updates on the status of their application and the fund committee is committed to processing all remaining applications by September.
Given these circumstances, the Undocumented Worker Fund is now closed to new donations, while we prioritize distributing the funds we have already raised to current applicants. 100% of donations already made will be redistributed to families in need. Cosecha is in the process of reaching out individually to the Undocumented Worker Fund’s monthly sustainers to share this update and offer options for next steps.
Organizing immigrants and building a movement
The work of the Undocumented Worker Fund exists within Cosecha’s larger organizing vision for the immigrant community. Rosalba, an organizer with Cosecha and Dignidad Inmigrante en Athens (DIA), explains how mutual aid projects directly help grow our movement:
Friends and neighbors who in the past were skeptical of organizing are turning to us. Thousands of immigrant workers in Athens who have lost their jobs are turning to the immigrant rights movement in order to meet their needs, through mutual aid efforts we are organizing.
We are bringing in new volunteers who help run the mutual aid programs as well as families receiving support into Cosecha and DIA, strengthening a base of immigrant workers who will soon be brought into local campaigns to demand protection, dignity, and respect.
Building our movement is essential because this pandemic has not ended and we know we face many, many challenges ahead. We are already seeing the economic aftermath of this global health crisis devastate communities across the country. We are witnessing the loss of life in Black and brown communities, many of them immigrants, at record rates. And we are met by an inhumane lack of action from the government in addressing the profound systemic inequalities faced by all immigrant and working people — inequalities that have only become clearer under COVID-19.
Our immigrant community continues to be excluded, while our labor sustains industries that exploit us as workers, while we are also hunted down by ICE operations and detained across the U.S. and at the border. Above all, this is why while we continue to disburse the funds still available to more excluded families, we are also shifting focus to harness the power of our community to organize and demand MORE.
On May 1, Cosecha organizers across the country led car caravans demanding COVID-19 protections for undocumented workers. In states where our organizers are concentrated, immigrant leaders have built decentralized local pandemic response networks with resources ranging from tutoring programs to food banks. We are taking care of ourselves in more ways than one.
In several states, our Driving Without Fear campaigns are also ramping up, because access to driver’s licenses allows undocumented immigrants to drive — to work, to buy groceries, to the doctor — without fear that they may be stopped by police, detained by ICE, and separated from their families.
Through these campaigns, undocumented immigrants demand the basic dignity and protection they deserve and challenge state legislators to do more than make empty promises. (And, we win! Check out this video from Cosecha’s archives about how we recently won Licenses for All in New Jersey.)
We are now called to continue building our movement, campaigns, and support for the immigrant community, through and beyond the Undocumented Worker Fund. Through this mutual aid project, we cannot meet all the needs of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States — but we can activate a movement of immigrant workers that will win permanent protection, dignity, and respect for us all.
Thank you to everyone who has and continues to be a part of the Undocumented Worker Fund and Movimiento Cosecha. ¡Hasta la huelga!