Undocumented workers are forgotten during coronavirus pandemic


By Luis Lopez, News Editor

“This is horrible. Today your father and sister got laid off from work indefinitely.”

This is the text I received from my mother on Friday, not even two weeks into the quarantine. Apparently, their bosses/managers believed it would be better to lay off my family members from their jobs rather than pay them during the current national shelter-in-place, thereby allowing them to apply for unemployment.

The coronavirus has not just brought us a pandemic, but also an economic disaster for millions of undocumented families across the country.

Undocumented people, including my family, don’t qualify for unemployment.

With my construction-worker father and restaurant-server sister laid off, it leaves me as the only person in our household with a job. The day I received the text I asked for as close to a 60-hour workweek as my employer could schedule for the upcoming week. But more work hours means less time to focus on school.

Even with the new remote learning apparatus Contra Costa College students are slowly growing accustomed to, I will certainly miss a few classes in these upcoming weeks because I’ll be busy earning extra money.

For now, my family is doing OK. My mother has always been great at saving for emergencies like this, but I know the uncertainty of having no income is looming over her and my father. She refused the extra money I wanted to give her when I paid my share of the rent this month. I put it in the drawer where she keeps the money she’s saving.

I have chosen to welcome the challenge of being the one to provide for loved ones right now because it feels good to be old enough (unlike in 2008) to keep us from losing our home — everything my parents have worked for.

And we are the lucky ones — the ones who at least have one member of their household with a steady income during these unsteady times. But only two weeks into a quarantine that we now know will run through April, if not further, that luck may change.

Immigrants are the backbone of this country and soon many of them will be facing the real possibility of not having enough money to feed their families. While the coronavirus keeps people sheltered-in-place and from working to support their families, there could be deaths caused by unemployment and poverty.

Throughout the history of the U.S., immigrants have been denied basic human and workers’ rights, and this pandemic could prove to be another point in history where immigrants are denied the equal treatment they deserve.

While the rest of the country receives a $2 trillion financial payout provided by the federal government to help them get back on their feet, immigrants and undocumented people will have to wait for that money to “trickle down” to them as they are not eligible for it. In the meantime, many will go hungry, many will die, and many will never recover from the financial stress of being out of work.

The coronavirus pandemic not only affects the undocumented financially, but also personally as the fear of deportation is awaiting those who fall victim to any illness severe enough to warrant a visit to a hospital, including COVID-19.

Undocumented workers don’t have the luxury to stay home from work when ill as there is no way to pay the bills and keep a roof over their heads if they don’t work and can’t apply for unemployment. Because few have health insurance, few can afford to visit a doctor until they have an emergency.

But they are expected to be back in the workforce when things return to “normal.” And, as always, it will happen. Immigrants and undocumented workers are the backbone of this country: construction workers, farmers, waitresses, and any other job that’s available. We expect them to continue to be underpaid and overlooked. We expect them to be there for the U.S. after, once again, the U.S. failed to be there for them.

Nothing will be the same when this pandemic ends, except for the fact that immigrants will remain the country’s unsung heroes.