The COVID-19 crisis is slowly revealing the ugliest truths of the precarious social net in the United States, particularly for the most vulnerable populations. In all the big cities, coronavirus is hitting immigrant communities the hardest―Black, Latinx, Asian, Middle Eastern―yet we might not ever fully understand its impact on undocumented immigrants.
Both La Jornada and the Washington Post paint a distressing picture of undocumented immigrants increasingly choosing to die at home. In an interview with La Jornada, Reverend Juan Carlos Ruiz, a leader of the New Sanctuary Coalition in New York and also previously Director for Disaster Response for the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, says that “people are dying at home, they are not going to the hospital, and those deaths go unregistered.”
There are similar testimonies of people dying at home in Langley Park, Maryland, a neighborhood seven miles from the White House:
“Today I heard some shocking news,” [Marco] told Maria, who is from Guatemala. “On the radio, they said there are groups of people who shut themselves inside and then started feeling sick but never went to a hospital. More than 20 people have died that way from this disease.”
“Encerrados?” she asked. Shut in?
“Encerrados,” he said, “because they didn’t have money, they didn’t have jobs, and they didn’t go to a clinic for a checkup.”
At the epicenter of the crisis in New York, people who die at home are being left out of the statistics for COVID-related deaths. As hospitalizations show a slow decline, WNYC reports that home deaths have spiked exponentially, from 20 per day before the crisis to an average 282 per day since early April. Although some of those deaths might be due to a correlation between COVID and cardiac arrest, leaving them out of the official data could distort the picture on the current effectiveness of quarantine measures.
As we previously reported at NPQ, undocumented workers do not have any paid benefits or access to health insurance, and they were left out of the federal stimulus package. Farmworkers were deemed “essential workers,” but undocumented migrants will not receive the much-need cash payments while the White House and Agriculture Secretary are working out a deal to actually lower wages for foreign guest workers.
Undocumented workers who still have jobs consider themselves lucky despite the daily risks they take by exposing themselves to coronavirus. Theirs could be the only source of income for an entire family, keeping food on the table or avoiding homelessness altogether.
A limited amount of emergency cash funds has been set locally by nonprofits and funders alike in specific states, but there’s just not enough to go around for the 11 million undocumented people living in the shadows. Countries like Portugal have opted to offer a quick legalization process for residents and asylum applicants, but a fast-track legalization of the undocumented in the US seems simply impossible within the current ethnocentric rhetoric.
Faced with dire threats to income and the fear of arrest and deportation, it is no wonder that undocumented immigrants would avoid going to the hospital at all costs and, instead, might be dying quietly at home.―Sofia Jarrin-Thomas