Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of lip service has been paid to appreciating essential workers. Unable to work from home, essential workers in industries like agriculture, cleaning, and home health care, and food service have risked exposure to coronavirus. Recently, a study found that over two-thirds of undocumented immigrants are essential workers — but rather than showing appreciation, the Trump administration continues to paint undocumented people as the bogeyman and put them at risk of deportation.
Conducted by FWD.us, the study used data from the 2019 American Community Survey by the Census Bureau. The report found that over 5 million undocumented people are working in essential jobs. When it comes to popular industries like agriculture, health care, and food services and production workers, the report found undocumented immigrants make up 11%, 2%, and 6% of workers respectively.
Essential workers are effectively expected to work in hazardous conditions without hazard pay. For undocumented immigrants, those demands take on an additional layer when the topic of deportation comes into play. While the U.S. temporarily suspended deportations in June, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement resumed deportation arrests in September. In its report, FWD.us wrote:
Immigrant essential workers are indispensable; the United States continues to rely on them to fight the pandemic and contribute to a long-term recovery. Consequently, they should not be subject to deportation, but instead should be provided certainty over their future in the United States. By doing so, we would recognize the critical work that millions of immigrant essential workers perform every day, and thus secure all our futures.
But since the pandemic started, President Trump has positioned undocumented immigrants as the barrier to American citizens' economic success. In the early stages of the pandemic, Trump announced plans to suspend immigration on Twitter. He wrote that doing so would "protect the jobs of our GREAT American citizens." And as a result, undocumented immigrants and their specific needs have not been included in ideas of how to support essential workers.
Of course, Trump has consistently dehumanized immigrants and utilized fear-mongering for his political goals. As soon as he began campaigning, he referred to Mexicans as "rapists" and murderers; a year later, he singled out Somali refugees at a rally in Minnesota. Trump has also spent the year trying to exclude undocumented immigrants from the census, although the Supreme Court put those plans on hold for now.
With this in mind, it's not surprising that Trump has latched onto the catastrophe that is the pandemic to continue pushing xenophobic policies. However, the arrival of a new administration may signal some hope. In its report, FWD.us called on Congress to include all essential workers — like undocumented immigrants, but also those with temporary status, lawful permanent residents, and others — in future coronavirus legislation.
In its call, the organization made a direct appeal to President-elect Joe Biden, writing, "This includes creating lawful permanent residence pathways for ALL immigrant essential workers, regardless of their immigration status. Given their personal sacrifice during the pandemic, it is the least Congress and President-elect Biden can do in helping them fight the pandemic alongside all Americans."