The transformation of the lives of most Americans into the “new normal” necessitated by the response to COVID-19 is truly unparalleled. But for the most vulnerable members of our society — the impoverished and marginalized — the crisis has only served to further entrench preexisting conditions, constraints and fears. Many live within devastating intersectionality: poverty, food and housing insecurity, and lack of access to quality schools, health care and childcare. Immigrants — whether undocumented or documented — most often occupy this space.
By Goldie McQuaid and Diana Fishbein
The harsh reality for immigrants is that while they assume valuable positions in our society, they accept lower wages and their work poses greater hazards and fewer protections against injury, including the contraction and circulation of illnesses like COVID-19. Several meat packing plants, where workers include refugees who have immigrated from around the world, have become COVID-19 hotspots; e.g., the plant in South Dakota, where many of their employees are immigrants, comprises over 40 percent of the state’s positive cases.
Having survived warzones and agonizing nights of hunger in refugee camps, these immigrants now grieve the deaths of family members, friends and co-workers, and are themselves becoming ill from COVID-19. Regardless, even under these worst of circumstances, they must return to the grueling work their families’ futures depend on.
And for undocumented immigrants who are classified as “essential” because they tend to the food supply, concerns are two-fold: arrest by ICE and an elevated risk of contracting COVID-19.