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Photos courtesy of MRNY
Names of fallen comrades were flashed on a building as Make the Road New York held a vigil at Corona Plaza.

A somber gathering took place Thursday at Corona Plaza as Make the Road New York members joined elected officials to honor the dead in the community that had been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Jackson Heights-based immigrant rights organization remembered its 67 fallen members while calling for stronger protections for the millions of immigrants and people of color who have been excluded from state and city relief during the public health crisis.

“I lived in Queens for more than 20 years and for the last few months I have seen my neighbors suffer tremendously. I lost both my jobs and every day I worry about how I will support my family,” MRNY member Luis Gil said. “While the federal government is excluding immigrants like me, New York is leaving us behind, too. It’s time for Governor Cuomo to step up and create the $3.5 billion workers’ fund to help the working class that has been excluded.”

The vigil was held a week after Make the Road New York and Hester Street released a report called “Excluded in the Epicenter” based on a survey of 244 New Yorkers, primarily Latinx immigrants that found one in six had lost a family member to COVID-19; nine out of 10 have suffered household job or income loss; and nine out of 10 worry about being able to pay rent.

“As a survivor of COVID-19, I thought everything would be better once I recovered, but my nightmare is far from over,” MRNY member Mario Chavez said. “After those traumatic days in the hospital, I am harassed by my landlord for not being able to pay the rent, and just like many who have been excluded from relief, I have to decide whether to pay the rent or buy food. We demand Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio to pass a true recovery for all in New York, our communities are sick and going hungry.”

In addition to canceling rent, the organization is calling for the release of at-risk people from prisons and detention centers and ensuring access to healthcare for immigrants. They urged the city to invest in immigrant communities and avoid cutting vital programs and services.

“Today we mourn the loss of over 50 Make the Road New York members who died of COVID-19 complications,” state Senator Jessica Ramos said. “Known as the ‘epicenter of the epicenter,’ our district has been ravaged by COVID-19 and has taken the worst toll on our communities of color and socio-economically distressed neighborhoods. These communities are on the frontlines without adequate protections and have been left to grapple with extreme food insecurity, housing evictions and unemployment threats. With Make the Road New York, we will continue to honor those we’ve lost by fighting our hardest for the living.”

City data proves that the coronavirus pandemic disproportionately affected people of color and immigrant communities while only 5 percent of them were able to access unemployment insurance, and only 15 percent had received any government assistance whatsoever, according to MRNY.

“While Americans across the state are struggling with unemployment, the toll this crisis has taken on black and brown communities has been unbearable,” Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz said. “Not only have they experienced the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, but many of our community members who are undocumented do not qualify for the public stimulus packages that have provided relief to millions of Americans. We can no longer sit by and allow our community to be marginalized and left to die. I will continue to push for progressive legislation that is inclusive of everyone regardless of immigration status.”

Councilman Francisco Moya is a lifelong resident of Corona, which has the highest death count of any area in New York during the crisis.

“We are standing in the epicenter of the epicenter of this crisis. The pandemic has absolutely devastated our community, but the federal, state and city governments have failed to respond adequately,” Moya said. “It’s time for Mayor de Blasio to step up for immigrant communities, who need real investment and attention, not austerity plans that will cut services that are even more vital in this moment.”

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