A local immigrant’s rights group is restarting a grassroots initiative encouraging residents to donate part or all of their $600 stimulus checks to undocumented families. 

Congress has mandated the IRS send over 100 million taxpayers the payments by January 15 to give struggling families a modest financial boost. But undocumented residents are ineligible to receive any federal relief, though many are frontline and essential workers or are part of a community particularly hard hit by COVID outbreaks

The charge to help needy families—dubbed #PledgeYourCheck—is once again being led by grassroots group Siembra N.C., which has offices in Durham and Greensboro. 

Last year, a handful of Durham’s elected leaders supported Siembra N.C.’s “ShareYourCheckChallenge” that prompted 487 people across North Carolina to donate all or part of their relief checks to undocumented residents between April and August.

The advocacy group says that since partnering with Church World Service in April, it has distributed over $375,000 in emergency cash assistance to more than 400 immigrant families across the Triad and Triangle who have been excluded from unemployment and federal stimulus benefits.

Those funds were earmarked for seven Raleigh immigrant women whose husbands had been detained by ICE since January of last year, as well as a broader COVID-19 relief fund for undocumented families. 

According to the N.C. Justice Center, one out of five Latinx residents in the state is living in poverty.

And while about 13 percent of Durham’s population is Latinx, the group accounts for nearly 39 percent of the county’s COVID-19 cases.

The issue is mirrored statewide.

According to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, people of Latin American descent account for 34 percent of North Carolina’s confirmed COVID-19 cases, despite making up 12 percent of the state’s population.

The philanthropic advocacy group says a significant factor in the high infection rates has been Latinx people—including Siembra members—who are working for industries considered “essential” that were never forced to close throughout the pandemic.

Undocumented residents could not access the first round of $1,200 payments made available to most people under the CARES Act, nor are they eligible for the $600 payments now arriving in bank accounts and mailboxes.

“Unlike the last round, however, U.S. citizens or permanent residents who file jointly with an undocumented spouse are now eligible to receive stimulus checks,” Siembra N.C. said in a press release. 

Siembra leaders noted that in 2015, the IRS received tax returns from 4.4 million immigrants without social security numbers who paid $23.6 billion in federal income taxes.

“That number has only grown larger in the last five years, and yet immigrants continue to be denied federal stimulus and unemployment benefits, despite also being ineligible to purchase private health insurance, leaving many hospitalized with COVID-19 with high medical bills,” they stated in the release.  

Last year, Mayor Steve Schewel and then Durham County Commissioner chair Wendy Jacobs were joined by Commissioner Heidi Carter as well as council members Javiera Caballero, Jillian Johnson, Mark-Anthony Middleton, and Charlie Reece in supporting the effort and pledging to donate to the cause. 

“Eight months after the first federal stimulus unfairly excluded many Latinx families, our communities are still some of the most likely to be one rent payment away from eviction, or to be burdened with high medical bills,” Caballero said in the recent press release. “That’s why we’re encouraging all who can donate part of their check to help us create a ‘people’s stimulus’ to fill in the gaps the federal government has created.”

Johnson, Durham’s mayor pro tem, says there are a lot of ways community members can support one another, “and to help families who may be facing eviction or other financial hardships right now.”

“Pledging part of your check for direct cash assistance is one of the best ways to help,” she added.

In addition to local politicians, nurses, teachers, blue-collar workers, and community activists are among the residents who donated part of their stimulus checks in 2020 and plan to do the same thing this month.

“It’s up to us to make sure our communities have what they need to get by in this pandemic, and many of Durham’s Latinx families have been unfairly excluded from the federal stimulus,” says Cole Parke, a statewide organizer for Carolina Jews for Justice.

“Community is a verb,” Lillian Zavatsky, a UPS employee who lives in Winston- Salem, added. “Our system is built on the labor of undocumented families, but often leaves them without government assistance. Until we can change the system, it’s important to do what we can to challenge the inequities and be good community members.” 

For more information about the emergency cash assistance fund, visit Siembra N.C.’s website

Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to tmcdonald@indyweek.com.

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