“[My company] never really cared about their employees and although, according to them, they implemented a couple social distancing rules, they never cared enough,” Emilia told Noticias Para Inmigrantes. “As far as I know, there are more than 20 employees in the building that have already tested positive.”
Emilia* used to work in television. Everyday, she would edit stories and interviews so they could air live on the national news. With this income she would help her grandmother pay rent and help with groceries. However, like many people during the coronavirus pandemic, she has been forced to make a choice: her income or her health.
Emilia, who lived with her grandmother at the time, found it more and more difficult to bring herself to go to work knowing that she could be exposed and bring the virus home. It didn’t help that, according to her, her job was taking little to no precautions in the workplace — they didn’t provide enough cleaning materials for their employees and they weren’t serious about social distancing. When they finally started separating editors, they didn’t take the proper precautions in doing so. The last straw came when she was made to work isolated in a freezing room with little to no cleaning supplies, which resulted in a fever. She never got tested because her symptoms weren’t serious, but she was scared enough to not return to work the next day.
“Right now I haven’t gone to work for two months,” Emilia said. “The thing is, I keep getting emails that people are still getting sick. And they say that they are going to clean the offices, but the last days that I was there I knew that the people in charge did not have enough supplies. They told us that we could only use one sanitizing wipe per person, which is, of course, not enough.”
In the last couple of months, more than 140,000 people have died because of coronavirus; close to 25,000 of those have been Latinos. According to the Washington Post, Blacks and Hispanics have been especially affected by the coronavirus crisis. This is mostly due to their lack of access to health services which prevents them from receiving needed medical attention for pre-existing conditions and the fact that, like Emilia, “many have low-paying service jobs that require them to work through the pandemic.” It has been especially hard on immigrants, who aside from battling with job instability and health concerns, have had the added pressure brought on by their migratory status.
Emilia, who is on an Hb-1 visa, knows that taking money from the government comes with high risk. However, to make ends meet, she has been relying on unemployment benefits.
“I have fear because I know that Trump has said that if people take any kind of government aid they could be denied residency or citizenship in the future,” Emilia said. “But the thing is that, even with that in mind, I’m still thankful that I have the resources and migratory status to be able to apply for these. That is not the same case for everyone — it is extremely expensive to even get a legal status in this country.”
The situation has been exceptionally hard on undocumented immigrants, who unlike Emilia, have not even had the option to apply to these benefits. Florencio*, who has been working non-stop in the U.S. for more than a decade, says that as an undocumented immigrant, he has not recieved “one penny” from the government.
“I have not received anything. I have lived in the United States for many years but I do not have papers,” Florencio told Revolution Ensglish. “The people I work with, they do not want to go to work because of the illness, and I need to work to buy my food and pay my personal receipts such as rent and bills. I do not have money to live and continue making my payments.”
While there has been some economic relief for those with a legal status in the U.S., undocummented immigrants have been left to fend for themselves. Even though they make 4 percent of the U.S. workforce, they have not received any type of help from the federal government, and with economies shutting down again, the future is not looking promising.
“I can no longer work and much less be sick, and now more than ever I need the government’s help,” Florencio said.
There is still hope that the Senate might authorize another round of stimulus checks, in which the Democrats have pushed to include immigrants with Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). This would mean that many undocumented immigrants, who still file their taxes using their ITIN, might be eligible to receive the check. It would also help thousands of immigrants on different visas who were not eligible for the payments because they didn’t have a Social Security number.
However, there is still no formal conclusion on the checks and it is unclear whether President Trump, who was sued in May for blocking stimulus checks for U.S. citizens married to immigrants, will agree to the terms. Furthermore, immigrants worry that with all the immigrantion restrictions Trump has passed in the last months, they might have even bigger things to worry about in the near future.
“It’s ironic when Trump talks down on immigrants, considering that his wife is an immigrant,” Emilia said. “She was even able to bring her family! But when it comes to ordinary people, we are stinky. His attitude is like ‘I did. But with me it’s fine. But, you are poor, you are dirty, you don’t get to do it.’
“That is plain ignorance. He doesn’t realize there is so much that [immigrants] have gone through and so much they are going through right now. He is blinded by ignorance.”
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* the names of the people interviewed for this article have been changed or modified to protect their anonymity.