The Essential, the Undocumented: COVID-19 exposes the fallacy and danger of Donald Trump's anti-immigrant crusade.

AuthorGoodman, James

In mid-March, a local community group in New Orleans called Familias Unidas en Accion launched an initiative to distribute a "Latino Box" of groceries--everything from corn flour to fresh vegetables--to undocumented workers who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic and who are beyond the reach of federal rescue programs. By late April, about 400 families, many undocumented, along with others in need, were receiving this weekly free food delivery in the New Orleans area.

"We know that we have to create our own realities as immigrants," says Mario Mendoza, who in 2018 started the group with his wife, Leticia Casildo. "That is the strength we are trying to transmit to our own communities."

Mendoza, a forty-eight-year-old undocumented immigrant from Honduras, had been doing construction work in New Orleans ever since he helped rebuild the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But in March, the outbreak left him jobless.

Across the country, undocumented workers are taking collective action to create their own safety nets. In Western New York, the group Alianza Agricola has established an emergency fund for COVID-19. In North Carolina, Siembra NC is holding fundraisers to assist undocumented immigrants in a bind.

But it's a difficult gap to fill. Undocumented immigrants do not qualify for federal rescue relief funds or state unemployment benefits, even though they have been paying taxes for years.

Worse, while immigrants including undocumented workers have been on the front lines of the pandemic, as health care workers and direct care attendants, activists say some are reluctant to seek medical care if they become infected. Many lack health insurance or are fearful of ending up in detention. Others worry about jeopardizing their chances of becoming a permanent resident under the Trump Administrations new definition of "public charge."

During an April 27 virtual town hall hosted by Senator Bernie Sanders, Perla Silva, a member of the activist group Make the Road New York, told how her mother, Concepcion Barrios--sick with COVID-19--waited too long to get medical care.

"Eventually, it became too difficult for my mother to breathe, and we had to call the ambulance," said Silva, who has Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration protection and lives in New York City. "When the paramedics saw her, they were dismayed at how sick she was and that she had not received any medical attention earlier."

At the hospital, Silva said, it was "shocking that the only regular phone calls we were receiving were from the hospitals financial office, several times a day, asking us how we were going to pay, and for my mother's legal status."

Silvas mother died at the hospital. And when her father, Margarito Silva, felt sick--and feared he might have the coronavirus--he refused to go to the hospital. When the first bill from her mother's care arrived, he said, "See, this is why I didn't want to go to the hospital." Dozens of members of Make the Road New York have already died of COVID-19.

Time and again, undocumented immigrants have been left out of COVID-19 recovery efforts.

Elvia, a thirty-six-year-old undocumented immigrant from...

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