Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Plight of the Undocumented

Some 10 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants are believed to live in the US. Many earn their living as domestic workers, or in the restaurant, service or construction industries - sectors of the economy that have ground to a halt as mandatory stay-at-home orders have taken effect. It is unclear what, if any, government support tax-paying undocumented immigrants might receive to help them cope with the fallout from coronavirus.
Since coming to the United States from Bolivia 20 years ago, Ingrid has eked out a living cleaning houses in the Washington DC area to support herself and her son and to send money to her mother back home. The 57-year-old usually earns around $1,500 per month. Even in a good month, Ingrid has very little money to spend on food, utilities and remittances to her family. So when she suffers a health setback, the blow is both physical and financial. Ingrid said eight of her 12 regular clients have cancelled her cleaning services for the month of March without paying her. Nor did they say if they will hire her back in April. 
"We, more than anything, fear this because we don't have health insurance, we don't have paid sick days as domestic workers," Ingrid, who asked to use only her first name because she is undocumented, told Al Jazeera. "Like any human being, we count on having our pay to survive."
For undocumented people like Ingrid, that means contracting coronavirus could be financially ruinous.
"Because we don't have health insurance, we take care of ourselves at home with the medicines we can buy in the pharmacy without a prescription," she said. "Or we have to go to medical centres that charge us a lot. I wish people would have a little more consideration for us, because we are the people, in reality, who help them with their children, with their older people, with their homes," she said. "We are the people who help them live their lives." 
The anti-immigrant rhetoric and climate of fear created by Trump could make undocumented people less likely to seek testing or treatment for fear of being arrested or deported, potentially accelerating the virus's spread.
"Immigrants who are undocumented are really scared, and rightfully so," Julie Kashen, senior policy adviser for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, told Al Jazeera. "That means that they are less likely to seek healthcare when they need it, and it means that they are less likely to be able to do what they would need to care for themselves and their family. The coronavirus is really hitting home the ways that we're all so interconnected and living in such a community, no matter who we are - whether we're somebody who moved to the United States with papers or without," said Kashen. "Public health requires that we all care about each other to save lives."
Even if there are provisions in place to make sure that they're not supposed to be legally retaliated against or that  Immigration and Customs Enforcement isn't supposed to be called, there's no reason for them to trust that in this moment, when there's been such an unfair and unsafe situation," she added. 
ICE agents are still making arrests. Concerns are also growing about the health and safety of people being held in immigration detention facilities. Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First have urged government authorities to "release immigrants and asylum seekers held in administrative detention by ICE" due to the "documented inadequacies of medical care and basic hygiene in immigration detention facilities". The groups also warned that infections in facilities could easily spread beyond them. 

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