She’s an undocumented immigrant, a taxpayer and an essential worker. But she won’t get a stimulus check

About 8% of Texas workers are undocumented, and because they’re not eligible for stimulus payments, many are facing tough choices during the pandemic

A Mexican migrant worker collects oranges during a harvest.
A Mexican migrant worker collects oranges during a harvest. (KPRC)

(Texas Tribune) – Esperanza’s job isn't glamorous, and it's not going to make her rich. But cleaning condominiums and office parks is at least honest work that helps her support her teenage son and her partner, who has diabetes and was laid off from his electrician job. And at least right now, it’s considered essential.

Like millions of other Texans, she’s been forced to take days off because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But unlike most others, she won’t get any financial relief from the $2.2 trillion bipartisan aid package passed to help the working class endure the massive economic hit that has already left millions of people unemployed.

Esperanza is an undocumented immigrant whose Austin-based employer deducts taxes from her checks every pay period. Those taxes add up to thousands of dollars annually, but because of her immigration status, she won’t receive one of the payments of up to $1,200 that the federal government began sending out earlier this week. A Social Security number is required to receive the benefit, so only citizens, legal permanent residents and some immigrants with work authorization can expect payments.

“They take a part of your check," said Esperanza, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym because of her status. “It’s our obligation [to pay the taxes], but then we don’t receive any benefits afterward.”

About 1.6 million undocumented immigrants live in Texas, according to the most recent estimates by the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute and the Pew Research Center. About 8.2% of the state’s workforce is undocumented, compared with the national average of 4.8%.

In Texas, many of the businesses that are considered essential and allowed to stay open with some limitations during the pandemic — including construction, restaurants and cleaning services — rely heavily on undocumented labor. That means that people like Esperanza have to consider picking up more shifts and possibly being exposed to the virus, or staying home and fretting over how to pay the bills.

She waits to hear from her employers about whether they need her to work each day. “Some days they have [work], some days they don’t,” she said. “But that much exposure is a big risk.”

Fernando Garcia, the executive director of the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights, said his office has been flooded with calls about what aid, if any, is available for undocumented workers since the pandemic has sparked mass layoffs around the state.