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Over150 million stimulus checks have been given to US citizens in the past year. In contrast, in just the past few months alone, over 30 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits, including hundreds of thousands of people in Wisconsin. Undocumented immigrants, however, don’t have access to this much-needed help. The Racine Immigrant Support Initiative, a non-profit run through the Racine Interfaith Coalition, has stepped in to give financial aid to roughly 110 undocumented households in and around Racine.

Fundraising success

RIC usually only focuses on advocacy but got involved in direct fundraising to help locals in desperate need with nowhere else to turn.

“These are people who couldn’t get help from the government,” said Tammy Hayward, RIC’s co-president. $39,000 in donations was raised in just a few months from the local community almost entirely through word of mouth — no huge press campaign or news coverage needed.

“We’ve been able to keep people in their homes,” said a second RIC Co-President Linda Boyle, “Whether it’s by directly helping pay for rent or covering grocery costs for a few weeks or paying off utility bills. And most families have received only one payment, and never more than $1,000.” Jessica Diaz, who’s co-heading the Racine Immigrant Support Initiative, added, “When you talk about living paycheck to paycheck, we have people in our community living day today.”

More help needed for undocumented immigrants

US immigration law is undoubtedly complex. But immigration law help is available to assist immigrants in getting a temporary employment-based visa, filing a family-based immigrant visa petition, or becoming a US citizen.

Nevertheless, both documented and undocumented immigrants in the US all too often deal with economic instability, crowded housing conditions, and insufficient healthcare access. “As much as this is a miserable time for all kinds of people, it’s been even harder on our immigrant community… especially considering the limited lifeline the government gave out,” Liners said. Moreover, most undocumented immigrants still pay sales tax and income tax and otherwise contribute to government revenue, yet don’t receive the same benefits as US citizens. The IRS, for example, estimates that undocumented immigrants pay at least $9 billion collectively in payroll taxes annually.

Despite this, the federal CARES Act failed to help undocumented immigrants in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Some states have attempted to remedy this somewhat. Vermont recently paid $1,200 to undocumented adults (setting aside $5 million in total), while California also established a relief fund worth $125 million (each household received a maximum of just $1,000). California’s plan was also mostly funded by donations and private philanthropists. The 16.7 million mixed-status households across the US, including 8.2 million US-born or naturalized citizens, only recently became eligible for stimulus checks under a $900 billion relief package.

So far, the Racine Immigrant Support Initiative has been a huge success, organizers say.

As a result, similar equitable programs have also recently been established in Kenosha, Waukesha, and Eau Claire. All three programs follow the model set forth by RIC and have successfully managed to help people afford to stay in their homes, explains David Liners, executive director of WISDOM, a statewide network of grassroots, mostly religious organizations that have partnered with RIC. “We have a lot of needy people” in Wisconsin, Boyle said. “It (the Racine Immigrant Support Initiative) spread from us to other areas of the state.” After helping at least 110 undocumented Racine households, the Racine Immigrant Support Initiative hopes to continue providing support to the local community.