The coronavirus epidemic has brought to everyone’s attention how the health and safety of us all depends on the well-being of every individual. We have quickly learned new terminology such as “social distancing” and are doing our part to slow the spread of the virus through minimizing social interactions, hand washing, embracing working from home (for those of us who are able to) and seeking medical treatment if we show signs or symptoms of the virus. All of these behaviors will help to slow the spread of the virus– or, in public health parlance, “flatten the curve.”
Now, imagine that you are one of the estimated 10.5-12 million undocumented immigrants living in our country. Would you come forward to seek medical attention? Consider the concerns of someone undocumented: entering a hospital or a clinic, or otherwise placing themselves in the care of the public health system, could mean being separated from their family, sent to a detention center or deported to their country of origin, or even to a third country where they don’t know anyone. Yet, every person who remains untreated remains a potential vector for this fast-spreading disease.
Just before the coronavirus closed our schools, workplaces, houses of worship, restaurants, etc., and understandably dominated the news cycle, the Trump Administration imposed punishments for so-called “Sanctuary Cities” (while there is no legal definition for this term, Sanctuary Cities refer to cities (or states) with policies stating that they will not pro-actively cooperate with federal immigration authorities). These punishments include the withholding of federal funds, targeting these cities with “elite tactical units” and plans to “flood the streets” with increased surveillance.
Prior to the coronavirus emergency, many of us opposed these tactics for moral or political reasons. As pandemics know no political distinctions, we must now put politics aside and work in a non-partisan fashion to stop the spread the virus. We need all members of our communities – every one of us – to work together for the common good of the country. This means that the Trump Administration should suspend its search for undocumented immigrants and instead urge everyone in America who needs a consultation or evaluation to seek out medical attention without fear of separation, detention or deportation.
Consider how undocumented workers are woven into our lives. In-home health aides, who provide the vital daily assistance of feeding, clothing and bathing the elderly, are often undocumented. These people depend on this hourly wage income, and will therefore be reluctant to miss work if they are feeling sick. Yet, the elderly is one of the populations that is most at risk of severe illness or death if they are exposed to the virus.
Consider, too, how many undocumented immigrants right now may be stocking grocery store shelves and checking out customers, preparing takeout food orders and cleaning homes and offices. Imagine if they continue to work while infected, thus spreading the virus, or stay home, potentially infect others in their immediate circle or family, and suffer because they are too scared to seek medical attention.
So, it is with the health and welfare of the general public in mind that we call on President Trump to take visionary leadership during this time of national crisis to stand down his ICE and Customs and Border Patrol agents, and to tell all people living on American soil – undocumented or not – that they can safely seek out medical attention if they are experiencing symptoms of the virus. This will go a long way to protecting all of us from this virulent disease.
Liora Norwich, PhD, MBA
Executive Director, Network for Social Justice
Ms. Norwich holds a PhD in political sociology, and currently runs the Network for Social Justice in Winchester, Massachusetts. The Network, through its Immigrant Justice Committee, advocates and supports policy around Safe Communities Legislation through its community organizing in suburban communities outside of Boston.