DENVER, Colo. — COVID-19 forced churches across the country to shut their doors to services, but the pandemic has also made one Colorado house of worship busier than ever: The Village Exchange Center in Aurora.
For many families, it has become the one place they found help when they had nowhere to turn during the pandemic.
“My mother is undocumented; we were born here,” said Kiara, a high schooler.
Kiara’s mom, Judith, came to Colorado from Mexico in 2004 for a better life.
They asked us not to show their faces because they worry Judith could be deported, but they hoped their voices would be enough to stand up for families like theirs.
Kiara translated for us as Judith explained what the last year has been like being undocumented.
“During the pandemic, it was really hard for us,” Judith said.
Judith was working two jobs before the pandemic, but last spring, both were shut down. She was left with no source of income for her and her three children, as well as her family members she was supporting in Mexico.
“The bills piled up, rent piled up, trying to get food piled up, and not being able to receive this stimulus check or being able to apply for unemployment wasn't an option because she's undocumented,” said Kiara of the tough situation that quickly unfolded.
Judith said she lost sleep worrying she and her children could soon be homeless.
“My mom said that it was really emotional for her and really stressful, because as an undocumented person, there is not many resources that help you,” said Kiara.
Even though Kiara is a citizen, she felt trapped, too.
“It's hard because as a child of an undocumented person, you can't really do much. I have to wait until I'm of age to start applying to things, so it's really stressful for me,” said the freshman in high school.
Judith and Kiara reached out to The Village Exchange Center for help and for resources. This multi-faith house of worship is part of the Left Behind Workers Fund, giving working families excluded from federal aid programs $1,000 grants during the pandemic.
“This is a group of people who paid in mostly into our federal system or unemployment system,” said Amanda Blaurock, the co-founder and executive director of the Village Exchange Center. “We know that over $200 million was paid, in from 2008 until now, by this demographic, but they had no way of receiving unemployment insurance."
In the past year, Blaurock helped give out more than $9 million to undocumented families across Colorado. She wanted to help the families who couldn’t get the same support as their neighbors.
“We don't see this as a partisan issue,” said Blaurock. “It really is a human issue.”
“Us undocumented people came here to work, came here to not live off of the resources of the government,” said Kiara. “So, we had to work cleaning bathrooms, cleaning houses, working in restaurants, working in construction, just to keep our families supported. It hurts because our community was forgotten."
Kiara says now, when the need for a helping hand is higher than ever, she hopes the government will see those who are paying taxes and earning a living deserve more. Judith hopes this pandemic has helped the community see the people behind the “undocumented” title, see the people who want to work hard for a better life.
“We're all humans. We're all equal. We're all seen as a person under God,” said Judith.