Pilot program will provide $500 a month for some undocumented immigrants in New Mexico

LAS CRUCES - A coalition of immigrant-based advocacy organizations is launching a statewide guaranteed basic income pilot project to provide monthly cash payments to undocumented immigrant and mixed-status families — families where at least one person has a different citizenship or immigration status.

The New Mexico Economic Relief Working Group has partnered with UpTogether, a national nonprofit, to provide the monthly payments to qualifying families beginning in March. The coalition says the NM Immigrant GBI Project will be the first statewide GBI effort.

ERWG said 330 families from 13 New Mexico counties, including Doña Ana County, will receive monthly payments of $500 for 12 months beginning in March. The payments will be delivered through direct deposit or prepaid cards, and there are no conditions on what the money can be used for. Funding is coming from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and UpTogether, a news release states.

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Families can apply for the program through 3 p.m. Friday, Feb. 11. ERWG said more than 2,000 applications have already been received statewide. Participants will be chosen at random to ensure adequate representation from rural and urban parts of the state.

How to apply for the basic income program

New Mexico residents can visit https://fund.uptogether.org/newmexico to apply.

Eligible residents must:

  • Live in Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, McKinley, Curry, Roosevelt, San Juan, Chaves, Lea, Doña Ana, Luna, Grant, or Hidalgo counties.

  • Be part of an undocumented or mixed-status immigrant family.

  • Be the parent or legal guardian of at least one minor child or or an adult dependent with a disability.

  • Be recipients of financial relief from either the NM Human Services Department state economic relief fund or local economic relief from their city or county.

ERWG is made up of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos, NM Voices for Children, NM CAFé and Partnership for Community Action.

Advocates of guaranteed basic income say it's a system in which agency is returned to the low-income person or family being helped because they are entrusted to make their own spending decisions removed from the constraints of government programs.

"UpTogether is excited and humbled to be a part of this historic pilot to invest in immigrant families across New Mexico," said Jesús Gerena, UpTogether’s CEO, in a news release. "After 20 years of trusting, investing in, and learning from families, we know when you give people money and the choice to use the dollars how they see fit, not only does it impact their individual households, but also the community at large."

The organizations say undocumented immigrants and people in mixed-status families are the focus for this pilot project because those people were ineligible for many of the federal government stimulus programs that have been enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic and are ineligible for many safety net programs.

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“Low-wage immigrant workers, despite being essential to key industries in New Mexico’s economy, are often left behind in safety net and economic development policies,” said Marcela Díaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, in the news release. “The outcomes of this pilot will help us drive home the need for more inclusive cash assistance to benefit the health and long-term economic prospects of entire communities.”

Councilor Johana Bencomo attends a Las Cruces City Council meeting at city hall on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022.
Councilor Johana Bencomo attends a Las Cruces City Council meeting at city hall on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022.

Johana Bencomo, a Las Cruces city councilor, has been pushing for the city to implement a pilot GBI program at the municipal level using federal pandemic relief funding.

"I believe that poverty is a policy choice," Bencomo said last June when first advocating for GBI during a city council meeting.

NM Voices for Children will be conducting a survey of the participants throughout the duration of the project to see how the recurring cash payments affect "family finances, health and educational outcomes, as well as decisions about work."

"These programs create stability for families, which allows them to plan for the future and pursue better employment opportunities," Amber Wallin, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said in the release. "We look forward to having the data from this project so we can learn how this valuable tool can help move New Mexico families and communities toward a brighter future."

Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for the Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, mmcdevitt@lcsun-news.com or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: Program exploring basic income for undocumented immigrants in NM