It seems that for the first time in the history of the United States, the arduous labor of undocumented workers has become visible to those who, not so long ago, did not even consider them indispensable. And the most inconvenient part of it is that there have been —and continue to be —people who fought and fight for their deportation because of their immigration status.
But it turns out that, in the context of the havoc that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing throughout the world, and particularly now in the United States, it is being recognized that undocumented immigrants, starting with farm workers, are essential to ensuring the functioning of a society in which the greed and ignorance displayed about the “Other” defines it in practically all aspects, a situation that has been exacerbated during the current administration; an administration that has taken it upon itself to consistently dehumanize the immigrant, calling him a “criminal,” “drug dealer,” “rapist,” and “disease-carrier,” originating from “shit-hole countries,” as he openly declared one time, the leader of the nation considered the most “powerful” and “humanitarian” in the world.
They cannot stop their activities without risking making worse this public health crisis that has forced most of society to strategically withdraw.
So, in a surprising twist, at the end of last month, the government issued instructions to speed up processing for people applying for H-2 visas, for field workers, because conceptually this visa program “is essential for the economy, and ensuring the food supply is a national priority.”
But while said applications are accelerated and the entry of other agricultural workers is permitted, it’s worth lifting one’s gaze to the farmworkers who are already here, the vast majority of them without documents, and who, regardless of their immigration status, have worked for years to ensure that the rest of the population has food on its tables every day.
These are workers who continue to receive low salaries, earning only between $17,500 and $20,000 per year; who, due to their immigration situation, have no access to health insurance or public benefits, and were left out of the economic aid package approved by the government to partly ease the crisis provoked by the coronavirus pandemic. That, without forgetting the conditions in which they work, exposed to extreme climates, dangerous chemical products, and now COVID-19.
In addition to this specific group of workers we find other immigrants that are also playing a role in confronting this pandemic, and also find themselves in a vulnerable immigration situation, like the Dreamers, more than 27,000 of whom work in the health sector right now, and of course those who work in cleaning and other indispensable services all the time, but especially in this moment.
That is, while the rest of us are staying at home to avoid propagation of the new virus, there are thousands of undocumented immigrants who, together with other segments of the U.S. workforce from all communities, are indispensable due to their function in society. They cannot stop their activities without risking making worse this public health crisis that has forced most of society to strategically withdraw.
Their utility, as it happens, is more than proven not only in this historic moment that has come to undermine the regular functioning of the planet, but also their participation is at the same time irrefutable proof of their daily contributions during times of socio-economic stability as well. In fact, it reinforces them. Even the current presidential family knows this, having contracted with undocumented workers to keep their different businesses in this country afloat.
This proof of their dedication, capability, and multiple contributions is more than enough reason to reflect on all parts involved in making decisions, at the legislative, executive, and judicial level, to regularize once and for all the immigration situation of these people and the 11 million undocumented workers in general, who day after day demonstrate how indispensable they are for the functioning of the system that uses them, yes, but at the same time negates them; that exploits them, yes, but at the same time rejects them, as happened last century with the mass deportations of Mexicans and American citizens of Mexican heritage in the 1930s, the so-called “decade of betrayal,” in the context of the worst economic crisis registered in the United States and one of the worst showings of racism and xenophobia in modern history.
It is all the more urgent, then, that they be put in their rightful place in U.S. society, before the same thing happens to them as what happened to immigrants serving in the Armed Forces, who as soon as the conflict in which they participated and risked their lives ends, are placed in deportation proceedings for lack of immigration documents. Or those other immigrants who rebuild cities after a disaster, but as soon as their work is done, are rejected by authorities and local communities.
If they are already officially and socially recognized for being essential to the economic and nutritional well-being of this country, it is also essential that we regularize their immigration situation and they be justly vindicated as part of the broader population to which they already belong, in their own right.
David Torres is a Spanish-language Advisor at America’s Voice.
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