Hop field

Workers tend to post harvest work in a hop field in Canyon County on Oct. 18, 2018.

NAMPA — Money from the federal CARES Act and unemployment insurance started arriving in many Americans’ bank accounts this week.

These benefits, while they still don’t replace the entire income of many workers, are some of the safety nets not afforded to undocumented immigrants.

Undocumented immigrants fill many of the positions deemed essential under Gov. Brad Little’s stay-home order, working at grocery stores, on farms and in factories. They also fill many of the positions most impacted by layoffs due to the pandemic, such as maintenance and the service industry.

According to the American Immigration Council, immigrants made up more than 40% of Idaho’s farming and fishing industry workforce in 2014, and about 42% that population was undocumented.

Undocumented workers will not receive unemployment benefits, even though they pay state and federal taxes, and they don’t qualify for the $2 trillion stimulus package, known as the CARES Act. And many of these workers may have lingering questions about the virus and the state’s response, since there is limited information available in languages other than English.

“Most of us (immigrants) are essential workers. We are out there working every day, whether it is grocery stores, or factories, it is usually our populations that are working there,” said Estefanía Mondragon, executive director PODER, the immigrant rights organization, and the bilingual social change associate with the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. “We are putting people with less resources at risk, folks that are working class.”

In addition to not being eligible for unemployment and the stimulus cash payments, undocumented people are usually not eligible for health insurance, even through the Affordable Care Act. They rely on health care through free and low-cost clinics that serve uninsured patients.


Mondragon helps run her family’s bakery, Panaderia Lupita, which has two locations in Nampa. She said while working at the bakery, many Latinos ask her questions about COVID-19 — such as how the stay-home order is working in Idaho, who is an essential worker and what they should do if someone they know becomes sick.

“A lot of folks are confused. There is not a lot of information out there in Spanish,” Mondragon said. “There is some, but what we are seeing is it is not getting to our people. It is interesting how our community organizes — they ask questions to their local baker and their local carnicero (butcher).”

Little’s stay-home order and a poster that helps explain how it works are available in Spanish at coronavirus.idaho.gov.

Niki Forbing-Orr, spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said the department has a list of language assistance phone numbers online at healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/LanguageAssistance.

“We also count on the local public health districts to know the makeup of their districts and have materials available in different languages as needed,” Forbing-Orr said in an email.

Southwest District Health includes Canyon County, which has the largest Latino population in Idaho. Among that population, the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs reported in 2015, 67% of Latinos in Canyon County spoke Spanish, 16% said they spoke English “not well” and 8% said they did not speak any English.

Katrina Williams, spokeswoman for Southwest District Health, said district representatives have done an interview on Sal y Luz Radio Católica, a Spanish radio station in the Treasure Valley (1490 AM) and Magic Valley, about COVID-19.

She said the district has bilingual staff to translate any calls that come into the health district in Spanish, and sends a Spanish COVID-19 parent letter to schools and has a fact sheet on its website in Spanish.

Williams said the latest project is translating guidance into Spanish to distribute to food establishments.

Christine Myron, spokeswoman for Central District Health, which includes Ada County, said the district is working with Southwest District Health on the food establishment document and plans to distribute it when it’s done.

Myron said Central District Health’s website can be translated, via Google Translate, to Spanish and other languages.

Google Translate has been criticized by local interpreters because it sometimes uses confusing phrasing to merely translate words from English to Spanish, instead of translating the meaning of the sentence.

Forbing-Orr said she didn’t know of any state-provided resources for undocumented workers.

Translating information has been on the to-do list for the ACLU of Idaho, said Ruby Mendez, the organization’s advocacy fellow.

“We know (undocumented workers) are not eligible for the stimulus package and they can’t apply for unemployment,” Mendez said. “And there is the factor of language, of how information is getting to them. They say, ‘I have been hearing this in English but I don’t understand.’ That is what we are trying to do, to work with partners on getting this language to our community.”


The Community Council of Idaho is helping provide the families of farmworkers food boxes, because it has been hearing that families have been unable to find some food items at grocery stores, said Irma Morin, the organization’s CEO.

Morin said the council has donated 150 food boxes to farmworkers and plans to donate more.

“We have been distributing information on safety measures for families, in the food boxes, including immigration and legal services they can use,” Morin said. “We are still providing all of our services via telephone or Skype.”

The Idaho Foodbank and food pantries offer their services to people regardless of immigration status.

COVID-19 tests provided by the state laboratory are free, but testing from private labs will likely cost without health insurance.

Mondragon said PODER is working on starting an immigrant COVID-19 fund, but it is in the early stages.

“We are seeing creative ways to help support the immigrant community. Other organizations are also creating immigrant COVID funds, but is that going to cover everything for everyone? Probably not,” she said, adding that it is disappointing to see few safety nets behind undocumented Idahoans.

Rachel Spacek is the Latino Affairs and Canyon County reporter for the Idaho Press. You can reach her at rspacek@idahopress.com. Follow her on twitter @RachelSpacek.