Wyoming's Unemployed Immigrant Workers Struggle With Lack Of Assistance

Apr 17, 2020

Hundreds of people in Teton County have filed for unemployment in recent weeks, many from service industry jobs. There's no way to count how many immigrant workers lost their jobs.
Credit Flickr Creative Commons/Jordan Barab

It's unknown exactly how many immigrant workers have been laid off in Wyoming in recent weeks, but it's likely quite high, according to Jackson immigration attorney Reilly Ward with Trefonas Law, especially since Teton County's service industry saw large numbers of layoffs.

When an immigrant worker gets laid off though, they have fewer safety nets than their non-immigrant counterparts. They don't qualify for unemployment benefits, for example, unless they have a valid work visa. Even if they do qualify, they may choose not to apply because of a new federal rule that disqualifies people from getting a legal status if they have a history of receiving certain kinds of public aid. Ward said that puts them in a tight spot because they're forced to choose between competing concerns.

"'Do we do everything we can to feed our family in the short run?' versus, 'Do we take steps to ensure that in the long run, we're taking the best action for our potential immigration case?'" Ward said.

It's called the Public Charge Rule and it's brand new, adopted on February 24, 2020. Ward said that means lots of immigrant families will be out of work without financial help from the state or federal governments. Ward said immigrant families who can't buy food or pay rent will likely turn to community programs.

"The best advice is probably to seek assistance locally to the fullest extent possible and to really seek out community resources," said Ward. "Jackson has a plethora of food banks, local nonprofits, and really relying on the local nonprofit resources."

Ward said, these programs are well supported, but with so many unemployed in the county, they could be strained.

She also recommends people contact her organization or another like it to find out if receiving unemployment or stimulus funds will be a strike against them in their immigration case.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Melodie Edwards, at medward9@uwyo.edu.