During the weeks of storms afflicting this part of the country, I wrote about fear and apprehension of disasters waiting to happen. I was wrong; you can depend on life for added perspective. For some, disaster is already happening.
Jimena Pareja, a whirlwind of activity, took 9 days of vacation, which is a lot for her, and upon her return she came over with husband Byron for our good coffee, store-bought marble coffee cake, and Henry throwing his toys all around and even high up across the table. Between tosses of a stuffed snake and a disemboweled zebra, Jimena told me something I should have seen coming: Immigrant families—and especially those who live here with no legal status—aren’t working, or working very little, in the farms. Why? Because there are no farms.
“They’re floating,” she told me, and she wasn’t referring to the workers. “The big farms by the Connecticut River are floating. The river flooded, other rivers did, too, and the big farms that employ so many people have lost many crops. They’re not growing, or else, when they pick them, they find rotting vegetables and fruit. The farms have their insurance, but these people have nothing. And this is the time when they must work many hours, the men and the women, because this is when they make money to pay bills from last winter or the bills that will come up in the next winter for rent or utilities. Yesterday, Tuesday, they didn’t work at all because of the storms. Today they are called to work just a few hours, and some not at all.”
She had gone away for 9 days, and upon her return was greeted by hundreds of texts, emails, and voice messages begging for help.
They count on the farms, and the farms count on them. But the storms that sent Aussie to the car’s back seat have destroyed many of the crops they were supposed to cultivate and, finally, pick. Gone. The photo above shows Aussie swimming on farmland.
Many are now trying to get work in restaurants, including fast-food chains, but practically all of them are checking up on social security numbers.
“They tell me that they’re going down to New York to get legal,” Jimena tells me.
If you go down to Roosevelt Ave. in Queens, New York, she explained, the sidewalks are full of people selling social security numbers. Of course, they’re not valid, so what the immigrants are counting on is that no one checks the social security number they submit. But many of the employers now use E-Verify and immediately discover the numbers are fake.
Let me give you a sense of what this has meant for just one family:
Emily (not her real name) gave birth in the hospital, but something went wrong in the delivery. The umbilical cord went round the baby’s neck, and the more Emily pushed, the more the cord tightened till it choked the new baby.
I knew this has happened to others, but I went pale listening to Jimena describe this step by step. In some way, Emily pushing the baby out with all her might tightened the cord more and more. Imagine a mother living with that.
It doesn’t end there. The husband doesn’t have work in the fields now, so there’s no income. The hospital would only release the infant’s body to a funeral house (it’s state law), but the funeral house won’t pick up the tiny body without some payment, so the infant remains in a morgue freezer till they come up with money.
I went to the bank this morning, got almost $1,500 in cash, and gave it to Jimena this afternoon. Tomorrow is the funeral.
I also wrote out a check for $2,400 to send 4 children for the second 3 weeks of summer camp that begin next week. We are prioritizing children who have no parent at home during the day. This left the account with a balance of $1,000. I told Jimena that if Emily’s family needed more, they could have the balance.
we got that low because I hadn’t asked for money for these families since the end of May, when we raised funds to send 10 children for the first 3 weeks of camp.
Jimena reminds me that here, as in so many places, there’s almost no affordable housing. Rents are market-high, and families are now more afraid than ever to host others and squeeze tightly with them because if the landlord checks, they could be evicted.
When we talk about low-income families, do we understand what this could mean in a situation that Emily and her family face? The mother has enough grief to deal with without worrying about getting the funds to bury her baby.
During covid, I knew that various immigrant families here sent money home because people had died of covid in their countries of origin and there was no money to pay the funeral homes to give up the bodies for burial. I heard this time and time again.
“What else?” I ask Jimena in my house this afternoon.
“We’ll need food cards for the last two weeks of August, and of course school supplies again. We haven’t given out food cards in a long time because people were working, this is usually the time for lots of work and making and saving money. The schools provide free breakfast and lunch every single day to the children, but not the last two weeks of August before they reopen for the fall, there’s no government funding for that. So we’ll need to give them the cards for those two week”s.
I had $5,000 in the immigrant account this morning and 80% of that is gone by late afternoon.
I spent a few minutes feeling silly about our fears of storms and the smokiness in the air from Canadian wildfires (I have asthma). Then I got to work.
We must rebuild the immigrant account. Luckily, Jimena has other sources of funding here, including the local interfaith clergy council and even Big Brothers Big Sisters, that supply Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for everyone for free. The farmers themselves usually help by hiring anyone, no questions asked, and supplying some kind of medical insurance. But not this summer.
Please help them. When you lose a new baby, the last thing you need is to worry about money and not losing your home. We also just paid up a month of fees for immigration lawyers to benefit Mateo and his family, whose journey from Honduras I wrote extensively about. Their daughter just celebrated her 6th birthday and, remembering her first comment when she and her father landed in Boston—“Will we sleep on a bed?” after 9 months of sleeping on the ground—I bought her two gifts, including a big, warm, embraceable Teddy Bear. Her parents got much-needed cash for their legal fees. Some of this I do from personal funds.
Please help these families. Please help their children. We know that climate change affects everyone already, but some more directly than others. If the farms are “floating,” as Jimena put it, there is no work. Please donate to these families by using the button below: Donate to Immigrant families. Thank you.