Under a racialized immigration system designed to exploit people and push them out beyond the margins of society, the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare and exacerbated dangerous inequities for immigrant Oregonians. 

However, community members and organizations from across the state quickly organized to create Oregon Worker Relief to distribute critical cash assistance for workers ineligible for unemployment insurance—workers excluded from the systems of mutual care meant to sustain Oregonians through crises like COVID-19.

Oregon Worker Relief has proven powerful and successful. In one year, the program disbursed more than $60 million to more than 37,000 individuals in Oregon’s immigrant communities statewide.

Designed and implemented by the community and for the community, Oregon Worker Relief has shown that when those most proximate to the problem—the true protagonists—get to create, shape, and implement the solution, it works.

The problem of immigrant exclusion—which lays at the heart of the systemic civic failures in the COVID-19 pandemic—is a hard, multi-faceted problem rooted in white supremacy and concepts of racial exceptionalism. In Narrowing the Gap, we identify state-level policy recommendations to build permanent pathways to immigrant inclusion in Oregon.

The pandemic also has demonstrated the need to design more permanent systems of care to address the fundamental inequities that plagued our society long before the pandemic and will continue long after the pandemic has passed. The keys to the success of Oregon Worker Relief—fostering deep coalition partnerships, utilizing community-led design, and building and sharing powerful in-house technology skills—can be replicated across domains and jurisdictions, transforming diverse systems to be more equitable, inclusive, and effective.

Read the report here.