FLINT, Michigan—From language barriers to the ever-looming threat of ICE raids, Flint’s Latinx communities’ recurring struggles have been compounded by COVID-19’s overwhelming presence in Michigan. A lack of municipal support has left the community with less access to resources than most, making what is for many a difficult situation, even worse.
During a Facebook Live interview with Flintside, Asa Zuccaro, executive director of the Latinx Technology and Community Center of Greater Flint; Aurora Sauceda, a local Latinx activist; and immigration lawyer, Victoria Arteaga, all shared experiences they’ve had over the last month with this lack of support and what they’ve been doing to account for it. These efforts have included reaching out to local partners as well as collaborating with other Latinx institutions across the state.
“Language and cultural barriers were definitely a problem for our community, unfortunately, during the pandemic, we see that these continue to exist,” said Zuccaro.
Watch Part 1 of our interview below.
He said these barriers negatively impact the health of the Latinx community. Since COVID-19’s arrival in Michigan, the Latinx Tech Center has had to look to organizations like The Hispanic Center of Western Michigan for help in acquiring translated versions of the documents necessary to access the financial benefits being offered by the state.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also obscured the Latinx Tech Center’s efforts to bring awareness of the 2020 Census to the Latinx community. Historically, the U.S. census has been avoided by immigrants who are wary of making their presence known to the federal government.
Zuccaro along with the rest of the organization has been trying to dispel these fears. “We wish we could dedicate a lot of our energies just to that but right now there’s definitely a need to divert some of that attention to COVID,” Zuccaro said.
This fear of the government has put many community members between a rock and hard place Arteaga explained. Due to a recent change in the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) public charge rules, Arteaga says many community members, including parents of children with U.S citizenship, have avoided reaching out for federal aid for fear of deportation. “It’s just a terrifying thing … The fear outweighs the benefits for a lot of these folks,” Arteaga said.
Watch part 2 of our interview.
Those who have been deported or in the process of deportation have faced extended times in custody during the COVID-19 pandemic Arteaga says. According to her, routine legal procedures such as credible fear hearings for those seeking asylum within the U.S. have been either postponed or not given the usual amount of time or attention.
“There isn’t time for that because they don’t have the people at the border to deal with people… there is hesitation to have hearings, they don’t want to have people in a courtroom because there’s too much contact … We have seen a big reduction in cases getting their day in court.”
For those community members who are able to stay in Michigan, Sauceda has been working to find assistance from public and private funding partners of the technology center in order to provide Latinx families with some financial relief. She’s had little luck.
“Maybe I’m wrong but they don’t put a lot of attention to it,” said Sauceda. “… all they told me is ‘go to this organization and apply,’ I mean that’s fine, but it doesn’t guarantee anything.”
Arteaga, Sauceda, Zucccaro as well as countless other members of Flint’s Latinx community are continuing to seek out solutions for those with limited access to resources. Part of this includes the addition of a translation services on the Latinx Tech Center’s website for those who need it.
“It’s so difficult,” Zuccaro says, “We need systemic change, we need our higher organizational partners to understand or have a better understanding of what our community is and how our community works or how the laws put in place make our community work.”
As Michiganders from all communities continue to suffer from the effects of COVID-19 on their health, income and other aspects of their livelihood, it is becoming increasingly important to follow the CDC’s guidelines for preventing the spread of disease. These measures include keeping a minimum of 6 feet of distance between you and others when in public and washing one’s hands as often as possible.