On a Friday afternoon in mid-April, Gladys Vega received a disturbing message: A woman hospitalized with COVID-19 needed food for the 11-year-old daughter she’d left at home.
Worried that the girl would go hungry, Vega rushed out of her office and into the tangle of downtown Chelsea, Massachusetts, a 1.8-square-mile city across the Mystic River from Boston.
The 52-year-old Vega, wearing a black tracksuit, a highlighter-yellow T-shirt, and a little bit of matching eye glitter, jumped out of the car so quickly, I could barely keep up.
She approached a narrow brick apartment building and asked the people on the stoop to open the front door. “You don’t have to worry; I’m not immigration,” Vega said in Spanish. “Let me in.”
Vega was accustomed to convincing fearful Chelsea residents to trust her.
More and more restrictive federal immigration measures had motivated some locals—day laborers, food-factory workers, janitors, and other employees now deemed “essential” —to leave as few traces of their presence as possible: using P.O. boxes instead of their own mailboxes at home, and steering clear of public buildings where Immigration and Customs Enforcement had […]
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