Amid pandemic and unemployment, immigrants dealing with host of other issues


Volunteer Rob Santos dishes out chilate de pollo (braised chicken in a spicy broth) in the kitchen at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. Santos is among at least 30 volunteers from Brooklyn Immigrant Community Support helping to feed immigrants in need during a food emergency. Many immigrant New Yorkers, including undocumented workers affected by statewide stay-at-home orders that forced the businesses they worked for to close, are experiencing food emergencies so members of their own community and neighbors are pitching in to distribute food, groceries and provide hot meals to those who can’t leave their homes. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — COVID-19 has severely affected the economy and certain industries, especially in Central Texas.

Of the job losses in Travis County, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, hotel and restaurant workers make up three of the top five affected industries.

Both Hays and Williamson counties have most of their job losses in these industries as well.

And, that directly impacts immigrants who work in these sectors, too.

According to an analysis of the April 2020 Bureau of Labor Statistics data from think-tank New American Economy, immigrants nationwide account for 22% of the hospitality workforce.

“Everywhere you turn, it’s sadness for immigrants,” Elissa Steglich, co-director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, said.

Steglich notes that it’s not just the economic toll either, immigrant issues run the gamut from health to closed borders and COVID-19 testing for immigrant detainees.

Juan DeKruyff, an Austin-based immigration lawyer, has seen about a 25% decline in business since the pandemic started.

“I actually expected more of a drop,” DeKruyff said. “I’ve been really quite surprised how many want to go forward with their case.”

And, that may be because of November’s upcoming presidential election.

“It’s fear-based for a lot of my clients, I guess they’re fearful it’ll get even worse later,” he said.

Overall, more than 2.8 million Texans have filed for unemployment and more than $8.2 billion has been paid out in benefits.

The largest payout of these benefits was yesterday, totaling more than $800 million.

“Based on 2019 numbers, that’s four years of claims in a little over two months time,” TWC spokesman Cisco Gamez said during Wednesday’s media briefing.

Gamez also noted that more than 250,000 Texans have valid unemployment claims, but they haven’t requested payment, which is required to receive benefits.

The agency will notify these folks to request payment and/or let the TWC know that they’ve returned to work.

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