Hobbs: Human development, undocumented immigrants and COVID-19
Local officials cited the loss of congressional seats and federal funds in supporting the census lawsuit. File photo.

A fully developed human being has the resources and time to care for self and family; to learn throughout life with accurate information; to participate actively in key family, work and civic institutions; to self-actualize; and, of course, to contribute to society producing necessary goods or services for our consumption.

This vision of Human Agenda arose from interviewing scores of domestic and international groups asking them to identify their individual and social needs.

A refined vision is conditioned on working for a living wage with reduced work time. Without these, people cannot meet the first four human activities listed above.

Overwork leads to truncated, partially developed human beings. For example, men can neither fully develop themselves nor be responsible to their family if they have no time for care work or household activities. Silicon Valley, the poster child of overwork for both well-paying tech employees and low-paying service workers, possesses many such partly developed people.

Historically, our economic system has pushed these conditions onto local lives: We have little time to care for ourselves and our family; to continue learning; to participate in institutions; to self-realize.

To some extent, COVID-19 has laid bare the dangers of overwork not only to ourselves but also to our environment. Will we learn from the virus?

To do so requires the development of complementary, fully participatory institutions that are democratic, equitable, cooperative, kind and sustainable, the values of Human Agenda. That is why Human Agenda supports worker-owned businesses, cooperative housing and public health care, elections, banks and education, with democratic governance structures.

Undocumented immigrants escaping persecution, poverty and deadly public policies — war, cartels, gangs, IMF-imposed conditions, etc. — are further truncated. Not only did they lack the opportunity and basic services for development in their home country, but now in the United States they cannot legally work, qualify for the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), vote or, in many instances, live together with their immediate family.

The paucity of income and time from working multiple low-wage jobs leads to the further curtailment of their human development, beyond what the U.S.-born already experience.

Enter COVID-19, and a fourth wave of impoverishment, alienation, fear and isolation impact undocumented immigrants, which number about 1 in 10 in our community. They cannot access stimulus funds, the Payment Protection Program (PPP), unemployment insurance or any traditional safeguards, especially now that they also fear becoming a public charge under President Donald Trump’s new policies.

That is why Human Agenda has created the SOLO Solidarity Fund.

Solidarity Organized for Los Olvidados (the Forgotten Ones) is helping immigrants like Carla. She escaped poverty, the ashes of civil war, structural adjustment policies and Mara 18 gang violence and had to leave her two small children behind. For six years, she worked two low-wage jobs locally, cut off from well-paying jobs, higher education, a decent home, health care and her children.

Sorrow turned to joy when her two children, abandoned at the border by her ex, were recently released to her from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention after she moved three times to satisfy strict ICE conditions.

Carla would love to be a worker-owner and access English, occupational training, voting or health care.

But instead, her kids have one change of clothing and no computer to receive education in their rented room. Having lost both jobs due to COVID-19, she is ineligible for federal relief or unemployment compensation.

Carla was the first $500 SOLO fund recipient. Locally, there are tens of thousands of other Carlas.

COVID-19 may challenge the lifestyles and livelihoods of U.S. citizens, but for undocumented immigrants, it is just the latest wave and most devastating decimation of human development.

To help, you can make a donation by clicking here.

Richard Hobbs is the executive director of Human Agenda, an immigration attorney and former director of the Office of Human Relations of Santa Clara County.   

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