The Pandemic Has Been Hard. It’s Been Harder On Immigrants.

For those shut out from benefits like unemployment insurance, pandemic brought unique hardships.

The year 2020 brought COVID-19 and worldwide economic devastation. But for Alexander Rios, a Venezuelan migrant newly arrived in Denver, it offered a gift.
“I discovered my purpose in life,” Rios said.

Rios, through an apprenticeship he began in March 2020 at Village Farms at Stanley, fell in love with growing food. The social enterprise is operated by Village Exchange Center, an Aurora nonprofit that gets the produce to people in need through weekly food pantry distributions.

For Rios, who fled Venezuela in 2017, growing fruits and vegetables at the farm was much more than just a new hobby. Improving food access for underserved communities represented an opportunity to come full circle. In Venezuela, he explained, you had two options: Work to make enough money to buy a little food, when there was nowhere to purchase it, or give up your job so you would have time to stand in line for food all day.

“The only food access that you had … was the food provided by the government,” Rios said. “So imagine how powerful it is to flip the page where I had the opportunity to come here to be involved with farming and to grow food for the community.”

Rios spoke to Newsline during a community celebration at Village Exchange Center in late June 2021. He didn’t give his full name as a precaution in case it would endanger his ongoing immigration case.

Things were looking up at the time. President Joe Biden’s administration had recently announced that temporary protected status, or TPS, for Venezuelans would be extended through September 2022 — welcome news for Rios, who would be eligible for protection from deportation under TPS. Along with his TPS case, Rios explained, he had a parallel, pending asylum case. Asylum status would provide protection and a path to lawful permanent residency, which could eventually lead to citizenship.

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