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- “There’s always this fear that they’re going to get pulled over and picked up," a local psychologist said of the mental health challenges facing undocumented residents.
Some of those people are essential workers but don't necessarily receive that designation from the authorities. Nor are they even recognized as such by much of the community. Some in the community may not even be aware of services available to them during the pandemic.
“The undocumented workers that harvest crops are still out there harvesting crops,” said Bernadette Solorzano, a psychologist who works with San Antonio's undocumented population. “We’d be in trouble without those people and the work that they do.”
However, “many have lost their jobs," she added. "A lot of people are laid off. There’s no unemployment for them to apply for, so that’s worsened their situation.”
Solorzano hopes that the current crisis may awaken more empathy for the group, which has been scapegoated by right-wing political figures in recent years.
San Antonio is home to more than 60,000 undocumented people, according to a recent study based on 2017 data. Collectively, the group earns $1 billion annually and contributes more than $100 million to taxes.
San Antonio officials appear aware the strain facing undocumented families. For example, the city's new $25 million COVID-19 relief package doesn’t require recipients to show citizenship documents.
Solorzano, clinic director of Community Counseling Service, which focuses on serving marginalized and low-income populations such the undocumented people, said the group has long faced hardships the rest of us are only now experiencing.
“There’s always an element of sustained uncertainty, which we’re all experiencing thru COVID,” she said. “There’s always this fear that they’re going to get pulled over and picked up. Then they’re not coming back home again. So, there’s always anxiety.”
In this way, undocumented residents may not see as significant of a change, particularly in mental health.
“It’s going to depend on if the family is hit by COVID-19. If they have to deal with illness or death of a family member, that will be an added problem,” she said. “Or if they tried to get help but couldn’t.”
Diana Lopez, executive director of the Southwest Workers Union, said her organization has received calls during the pandemic from undocumented people experiencing financial stress and depression. Some worry that they have no financial safety net in the U.S. and no local support system of relatives to help out if they lose their jobs.
"It's something we really haven't figured out how to address, other than staying on the phone with them and letting them talk about what they're feeling," she said.
Walk-in mental health services are available at Community Counseling Service. Immigration status is not something the clinic asks about, and if they became aware of a client being undocumented, it would be protected information.
There is room for non-professionals to help as well. Organizations such as Refugee And Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) are frequently looking for volunteers, particularly volunteers who are bilingual.
“For most people, helping other people improves your mental health,” Solorzano said. “You’re putting change out in the world and you’re making a difference. It takes the focus off of yourself and it’s a way to count your own blessings.”
Solorzano recommended that people in need of assistance turn to the city’s official bilingual site and access resources provided by the League of United Latin American Citizens.Stay on top of San Antonio news and views. Sign up for our Weekly Headlines Newsletter.