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Coronavirus and Immigrants

Updated on March 21, 2020
Jesus R Villalba profile image

Jesus is a student and an immigrant rights activist and has spent the past year fighting for migrant justice and civil rights.

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Covid-19 and the Left

Covid-19, which I will refer to as Coronavirus from this point on, is the boogeyman that the left has warned about for decades.

The United States has long been a right-leaning country, prioritizing capital gains over the general wellbeing of its populace, in other words: the small fish gets eaten by the bigger fish. This, by many, is interpreted as the United States being a "free economy" with the invisible hand of the markets protecting and keeping the US economy on track to eternal and exponential growth.

The United States, after the Great Depression, made a lot of social changes to guarantee some form of safety net for the average United Statian. Among these changes were things like social security and aid programs that would later help whites justify their bias and prejudice against people of color. "But they're lazy and on welfare!" they said.

Like with many things, there is always the first step, but sometimes what you start with isn't the best place to end. In the United States, we created this system of aid and cushion but never bothered to amend or update it afterward. Compared to the rest of the white settler world, the United States has now come to have one of the most inefficient and expensive safety nets in the world.

What do I mean by the safety net? (Or at least what it's supposed to be.) Everything from basic income like minimum wage to medical care like Medicare and Medicaid, to others like Social Security have come to be too expensive, too ineffective, and possibly worst of all, too inaccessible.

What is our response to this crippled healthcare, education, and economic system? Nothing. The left has proposed many amendments like universal basic income, universal healthcare, and even universal higher education. The left has many times brought up issues like starvation wages, paid sick leave, and other basic worker's rights, but many times they've been shot down by centrists as "too radical" or even "communist" despite their existence in many other countries.

Unless you're a poor working person, you might not live in everyday fear of being sick and not being able to work, or getting a flat tire and having to take the bus to work hoping you have enough fare for the day. We have warned for decades about our lack of preparedness when it comes to crises like pandemics. The left's boogeyman has been until this point a horrible, global emergency that would threaten the very existence of life as we know it. The problem is that boogeymen are often just cartoons we conjure to paint a picture in someone's head, and now it's real and more consequential than ever.

Things that the left have advocated for, like basic universal income, paid sick leave, telecommuting where applicable, and a reformation of our educational, medical, and economic systems are now more necessary than ever.

In other words, the majority of the real left (excluding most centrists and moderates), has seen that capitalism itself is unsustainable and that we should always prepare for the system to crash, as it inevitably regularly does. The examples and scenarios we've worried about have come true, all at the same time.

“Any lack of confidence in the economic future or the basic strength of business in the United States is foolish.”

- Herbert Hoover, November 1929

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The immigrant experience

Before continuing, it's a good idea to mention that not being white is not a particularly crazy or exotic thing. Most of the world is brown or black, and it just so happens that to feel safer, whites tend to classify us as white or not white. My intent not to lump everyone's experience together, rather reflect on my own experience as an indigenous, immigrant of color coming from a Hispanophone nation.

Now that we have that out of the way:

The left's boogeyman, of emergency and existential threat, has been the reality of many people of color for centuries. In the United States, we have marginalized communities fighting for justice, allies, and people who think they're allies but are just getting in the way with their "realism" and "rationalism".

For many of us, the threat of developing a disease and passing away because there is no accessible treatment has been a harsh reality since before this coronavirus pandemic. Even though any suffering and pain should not be ignored or compared to another, it is also important to remember that the panic and uncertainty that many whites (including allies) are feeling now are things that many of us have had to deal with regularly.

There are few things as despair-inducing as not being able to have something not due to scarcity, but because you can't pay for it. When we take a look at the United State's metropolitan centers, we see empty housing, unsold and discarded food, expired medicines, and things people were not able to have or use, just because they couldn't pay for it.

Undocumented immigrants often spend sleepless nights worrying about how they'll pay rent, or university, or even food, just because of their lack of accessibility. Often, undocumented migrants have the skills and abilities to work as nurses, doctors, engineers, and so much more, but they're denied because of their not accepting translated degrees. Some undocumented migrants have worked their entire lives in the United States but cannot take from the system they've been paying into because of their lack of social security. While bigots and racists have depicted the average immigrant as a mooching parasite, we often don't even have the ability to "mooch".

The false scarcity caused by people panic shopping has induced a fear within privileged folks that simulates the emotions that we feel when we know that the food and medicine are there, but we can't have it because a small few decided to have it all for themselves. To sum it up, the United Statian has now been a victim of the gluttony and selfishness that it often subjects others to under other circumstances.

Within the coronavirus pandemic, the experience has been magnified by the crisis. While people panic shop and leave little, underprivileged people are unable to pick even the scraps because of their price and impracticality. I can buy the jar of mayonnaise and bananas, but not much more unless I have the disposable income to reach into when the price gouging sets in.

Immigrants often leave their countries experiencing these issues, into the United States, expecting that the abundance of nutritious food and life-saving medicines only to be met with artificial scarcity.

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Immigration and Crisis Response

During these times of crisis, many proposals and motions for aid across the country are being approved and dished out. Though the United States has been sluggish in its response to the pandemic, it has begun to roll out aid for its citizens and documented residents. It has not been a mistake that undocumented immigrants are being ignored during this crisis.

For an uncountable number of years, the United States has inhumanely detained undocumented immigrants and denied us basic human rights. The CDC and other health organizations order us to remain at least six feet apart (it varies and is subject to change) and wash our hands regularly, for example. These measures are not accessible to our loved ones and family members detained in these concentration camps.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), also known as the Gestapo, has been known to keep detainees from basic hygiene products like toothpaste and toothbrushes, as well as soap and running water. From the information available, it appears as if most if not all camps are full, and inhumanely packed, promoting disease and ideal breeding grounds for viruses and bacteria.

Many have raised the alarm that even flu shots have been denied to detainees. We're aware of cases like that of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, who passed away under ICE custody in May of 2019. The 16-year-old boy died due to Influenza complications and was found lying dead in a pool of his own blood and vomit unbeknownst to ICE officials.

While many are posting cute cooking videos during their quarantines and praising the Federal Government for not messing up, there are detainees in camps being forced into inhumane conditions and in danger of not only catching the virus but dying from it. If we cannot trust the United States to care for refugees and immigrants during flu season, how can we trust it to care for detainees during a global pandemic of a disease many times worse than the flu?

The central government is set to issue checks to everyone in the United States that has a social security number, which no undocumented immigrant has. While public charge has been temporarily suspended for the most part due to the coronavirus, this does not even begin to alleviate the economic and social hardships of undocumented immigrants in the United States. In the best-case scenario, these "relief" efforts are leaving tens of millions of people behind and in the worst, they're forsaking us to the fate of more than 11,000 people worldwide as of today, March 21st.


© 2020 Jesus Villalba Gastelum

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