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Washington sets aside $40M in relief funds for undocumented residents

caption: The Washington state Capitol as pictured on a summer day.
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The Washington state Capitol as pictured on a summer day.
Northwest News Network

Seattle residents and Washingtonians applied for relief funds as the coronavirus pandemic slashed their incomes and savings. But for Washington’s undocumented workers, that was never an option.

Now after months of pressure from immigration activists and organizations, Governor Jay Inslee is launching a state fund for undocumented workers -- $40 million to be exact.

“We’re excited to have a good chunk of money allocated to our community,” says Alejandra Perez, an immigration activist from the Seattle area, “Even though our [original] ask was $100 million.”

She’s been working with the governor’s staff and was among the DACA recipients in the Washington Dream Coalition who called out the governor during a public Zoom meeting back in June.

Initially, the fund in Washington was a grassroots effort among several organizations to raise $100,000. Perez was soliciting donations on social media and word of mouth. That fund eventually raised $5 million over the last several months.

With this additional infusion of funds from the state, she believes they will be able to help thousands more.

Washington has an estimated 240,000 residents without legal authorization, according to the Pew Research Center, and they pay an estimated $368 million in state and local taxes.

For those individuals and their mixed-status families it means the opportunity to catch up on groceries, car and utility bills, and even rent.

In a news release, Nedra Rivera & Linda Zietlow, two hotline coordinators for the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network (WAISN) explained the kinds of calls they’ve been fielding since the economic fallout of the pandemic began.

“We have heard the stories of thousands of our undocumented siblings, including an undocumented mother and restaurant worker in King County who lost her job as a result of this pandemic. Her most urgent need was to know the safest part of town to sleep houseless without fear of immigration entanglements with her 1 year old, 4 year old and 6 year old daughters.”

The WAISN Hotline was meant to be a safe place for Washington immigrants to call in if they spotted ICE activity. It has since become a call center for everything from coronavirus related questions to how to apply to direct relief funds.

Washington follows California and Oregon among that states developing relief funds for their undocumented residents.

Now the state will look for a foundation or nonprofit to manage and distribute the funds.

Perez says she wants the process to be easy on families who are sometimes already navigating issues around language or technology access.

“At the end of the day, how do we make this not difficult for people?” she says.

“That’s what we don’t need. We’re literally in a pandemic, we don’t need things to be more difficult.”

The funds are expected to be distributed to immigrant families and individuals this fall with an estimated $3,000 per household and $1,000 per person.

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