A new study released by the pro-immigrant reform group, FWD.us, shows that more than two-thirds of undocumented immigrant workers have frontline jobs considered essential to the U.S. fight against COVID-19. According to the 2019 American Community Survey by the Census Bureau, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that 69% of undocumented immigrant workers hold jobs that are deemed essential.
2019 American Community Survey
The study estimated that undocumented immigrants comprise up to 11% of agriculture workers, up to 2% of health care workers, and up to 6% of food services and production workers.
The study found that 70% of the immigrants working in essential jobs have lived in the U.S. for more than ten years. 60% of them speak English. The study also shows that almost one million essential workers are “Dreamers” protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Former President Barrack Obama introduced the DACA program under his administration. The Trump administration has repeatedly tried to challenge DACA, but a Supreme Court ruling issued earlier this year extends the program. DACA policy could still end through a new case in Texas.
Undocumented Immigrant Essential Workers
In early 2020, Elizabeth Valencia, 54, was the only geriatric nursing assistant serving 28 COVID-19 positive nursing home residents in Maryland, when an outbreak affected the staff. Valencia has lived in the U.S. for 20 years and has worked for the same facility for almost 18 years now. She started as part of the cleaning staff and gradually advanced to become a nursing assistant. Valencia is an immigrant on Temporary Protected Status, which allows Salvadorans to work and live in the United States.
Jonathan Rodas, a DACA recipient who is currently attending nursing school, works as an operating room assistant at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. Rodas and his entire family tested positive for COVID-19 in July last year. He says they have all fully recovered and no one was hospitalized. Rodas recalls fearing for his stepfather who is undocumented and does not have medical insurance, as any hospitalization would be financially burdensome.
Rodas said he is not surprised by the study that found one in five essential workers are immigrants. About working in a hospital during the pandemic, Rodas said “There’s not a lot of people out there who want to do that job because they’re scared of it. I’m scared of it. But I do it for the patient. The passion that I have to help people out.”