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Immigrants Remain Essential Workers in America’s Time of Need

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From Farm Labor to Hospital Caregivers, to Doctors and Inventors, Immigrants Make America Great 

In fields, meatpacking plants, labs, vaccine testing facilities, hospitals, grocery stores and communities all across the country, immigrants are keeping us fed, keeping us safe, and keeping us going. This despite being targeted by an unrelenting war on immigrants and refugees prosecuted by the Trump administration and aided and abetted by Republicans in Congress.

As a result, immigrants continue to live in fear as this administration continues with raids, expulsions, detention, and deterrence strategies that leave potential refugees in squalid conditions. They are being left out and left behind in COVID stabilization and recovery efforts, and they disproportionately bear the brunt of the pandemic from a health, safety and economic perspective. 

Below are just some of the recent developments that should point the way for the incoming Biden-Harris administration to reverse the cruelty of Trump’s policies, build a fair and humane immigration system, and modernize U.S. immigration policy so it comports with our ideals and values.

  • Immigrants leading vaccine development on COVID: As optimistic reports about vaccine development emerge, it’s worth remembering the point that, as Axios business reporter Dan Primack recently noted, Moderna’s co-founders and CEO are immigrants. The story is much the same for Pfizer’s vaccine development team, where Bloomberg’s Andreas Kluth observes, “Like many other entrepreneurs and innovators, the scientists developing the leading vaccine candidate against Covid-19 have foreign roots.” 
  • Immigrants carrying a heavy load as essential workers in healthcare, food, and ag: As a research summary from New American Economy notes, immigrants make up huge numbers of essential workers fighting to keep us safe during this once in a century pandemic: “Immigrants are fighting on the frontlines of the COVID-19 health crisis in a variety of essential occupations … Today, immigrants make up nearly one-third of psychiatrists and more than a quarter of America’s physicians … Immigrants make up more than 1 in 5 Food Sector Workers, including 28.7% of Food Processing Workers, 27.6% of Agriculture Workers, 18.2% of Food Delivery Workers, and 16.6% of Grocery and Supermarket Workers. Overall, immigrant workers disproportionately serve in the riskiest jobs.”

Meanwhile, immigrants – many of them considered simultaneously as essential and deportable – continue to be targeted by the Trump administration.

  • Tyson plant managers in Iowa placed bets on how many of their workers would contract COVID while refusing to take proper safety precautions: Recall that President Trump designated meat processing an “essential” industry where too often workers were required to work without sufficient precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19. This week, BuzzFeed News reported that in a Tyson Foods plant in Iowa, where many of the workers are immigrants, refugees and people of color, managers engaged in the most callous and dehumanizing behavior imaginable: 

“Managers at a Tyson Foods plant in Waterloo, Iowa, rejected pleas from local officials to temporarily shut down during the pandemic and placed bets on how many workers would end up getting COVID-19, according to a recently filed lawsuit. The family of Isidro Fernandez, a worker at the plant who died of COVID-19, filed the lawsuit, alleging Tyson Foods downplayed the spread of the coronavirus among its workforce and incentivized employees to come in when they were sick. ‘At least one worker at the facility vomited on the production line and management allowed him to continue working and return to work the next day,’ the complaint alleges. Then, as workers were being infected with COVID-19, a plant manager organized a ‘cash buy-in, winner-take-all’ betting pool to see how many workers would end up testing positive for the virus, the complaint said.”

  • Trump continues to target immigrants on his way out the door: As Trump continues to try and tear down democratic institutions on the way out the door, he and Stephen Miller remain hellbent on advancing anti-immigrant policies that will harm lives. They continue to target DACA and Dreamers, make the naturalization process and citizenship test harder to pass, expel children seeking asylum summarily without a hearing, warehouse immigrants in COVID-19-infested detention centers and deport as many witnesses to their cruelty as they can (including the victims of unnecessary medical procedures in Georgia) before they leave office.
  • “Spite and heartlessness” – Linda Greenhouse on Trump’s immigration cruelties, with specific reference to DACA: Leading legal observer Linda Greenhouse writes, “…[A]t the heart of this tale is meanness. Failing to bend the Supreme Court to its will, the administration tried to take revenge on a vulnerable group of people whose only offense, through no fault of their own, is living among us.”

According to Douglas Rivlin, Director of Communication for America’s Voice,

Many Americans will not celebrate Thanksgiving this year surrounded by big groups of family and friends, but don’t forget how many immigrant hands your food, beverages and supplies passed through on its way to your table. We should all be extra thankful for the work of men and women across the country this Thanksgiving who make our lives possible. Many of these workers are both essential and deportable in the eyes of the law and if President Trump and Stephen Miller had their way, would not be in this country and contributing to our economy at all.  

Immigrants, refugees and workers across all levels of our society have been keeping us safe and fed throughout this pandemic. Now, as we see light at the end of the tunnel that a vaccine will finally be available to fight the pandemic and the economic shutdown of the world economy, we are once again reminded that immigrant entrepreneurs are driving our pharmaceutical and biotech fields, putting us in a position to emerge from COVID-19’s grip.  

Even in these dark and uncertain times, America has much to be thankful for this year and can have great hope for the future where a united country pulls together to fight an existential threat after years of division, cruelty, exclusion and strife. As we observe a holiday that fundamentally celebrates the welcoming of newcomers to this land, we ought to recommit ourselves to maintaining America’s leadership as a nation based on a simple but profound credo: E Pluribus Unum, Out Of Many, One. A new year, a new administration and a new era are before us if we recognize that diversity and inclusion are our strengths and make the American experiment in equality, industry and self-governance unique among nations.