California Undocumented Relief Fund sees overwhelming demand in first week

The $125 million fund for undocumented immigrants in the state is up and running, but some are struggling to obtain the funds as organizations work to answer tens of thousands of calls daily.   

The Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants program gives eligible undocumented adult immigrants a one-time COVID-19 assistance value of $500. There's a limit of two undocumented adults per household that can receive the funds.  

"Ultimately the biggest problem is that while there's a significant amount of money that's been invested into this fund, it is minuscule compared to the need," said Aileen Louie, the Interim Co-executive Director for Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles, a non-profit organization.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice is one of just three organizations in Los Angeles County with approval to handle the distribution of funds. The two other organizations are CHIRLA, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, and CARECEN. 

"On the day that this program went live, all of our organizations were inundated with calls from the community, folks that are desperate for help and really have not, had nowhere else to turn," said Louie.  

Louie said her organization alone is receiving 90,000 calls each day.  

"I know that the numbers that CARECEN and CHIRLA have been seeing are actually much significantly higher than ours," Louie said.  

The application process can only be done via phone call, and the staff is working remotely. 

"Our phone systems are not necessarily built to deal with this kind of volume so there's been a number of different technical challenges that have made it difficult for people to get in touch with us but ultimately we are still talking to thousands of people every day," Louie said. 

Louie said the organization had to hire more staff to keep up with the demand. 

"We hired a number of temporary staff to help process this work but even with that, I think it is definitely a challenge," she said.  

There are thousands of people who ultimately will not be able to receive funds. 

"There has to be more assistance that's available to people and we need to kind of figure out ways to be able to support the thousands if not millions of people that are currently in need," said Louie. 

Lilia, an undocumented mother of three, is in desperate need of help. She is unable to find work due to the pandemic, and said she is trying to find ways to work from home to be able to pay rent and other bills. 

"It is very hard. You have to be patient and have faith during this time," she said. 

Asian Americans Advancing Justice is taking calls from 9-5 p.m. to assist immigrants. Their focus is on serving the Asian Pacific Islander community, while CHIRLA and CARECEN are handling calls from other communities.