News & Views

Unemployed and Scared

Like hundreds of thousands of immigrants, Rosa* lost her job to COVID-19. Two advantages may help her survive: legal status and, most recently, assistance filling out an unemployment application. Both came through HIAS Pennsylvania.

Although Rosa married a green card holder, her husband was abusive and never applied for her visa. As long as she didn’t have legal status of her own, he controlled her completely. At work, the agency that employed her to clean businesses took all the taxes the rest of us pay from her paycheck, but she would never be able to collect any benefits without legal status.

Three years ago, she managed to connect to HIAS PA attorneys, who helped her apply for her own green card and obtain a work permit. Finally, she had the independence she needed to leave her husband. 

Now Rosa needed the unemployment benefits she had earned, but confusion and anxiety threatened her again. She was grateful the state had provided a Spanish-language application, but she still couldn’t fill it out. “Even as a native English speaker, the application is very tricky,” HIAS PA case manager Nicole Banales reports. “That’s why there is a step-by-step interactive guide available to walk you through it. A guide available only in English!” Via telephone, Rosa and Nicole worked together to fill out the online application. Rosa does not have a computer, so Nicole used screenshots on her phone to walk through the process as Rosa filled it out on her phone. 

Rosa’s situation is far from unique. “Our clients are in freefall,” says Cathy Miller-Wilson, Executive Director of HIAS PA. “Our case managers are calling all of them to find out what they need and connecting them to resources wherever we can.”

For Nicole Banales, clients like Rosa are giving her strength, “because they are finding ways to live in this crisis with everything at stake.”

*Name was changed