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Immigrants and citizens: We are all in the COVID crisis together

Yet immigrants, and especially undocumented immigrants, are far less likely to have health insurance and access to medical care.

healthcare worker
Photo by H Shaw on Unsplash

That doctor in rural Minnesota planning for what her team will do when the first coronavirus patient shows up at their small rural hospital? She is an immigrant, one of more than 2,000 foreign-trained doctors who practice in Minnesota. Immigrants make up more than one in five of all doctors in the state, and an even higher percentage of doctors in rural areas.

That nursing assistant diligently scrubbing her hands in between patients and wishing for more masks and gloves? She’s an immigrant, like tens of thousands of other immigrants providing frontline care in hospitals and nursing homes across the state. Nationally, about 16 percent of registered nurses and nearly a quarter of nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides are immigrants.

From health care to food production

Immigrants, with or without permanent resident visas, work in health care, child care, grocery aisles, food production, and delivery in rural and urban communities across our state.

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They are all Minnesotans. Like you and like me, they are trying to cope with their own fears of infection, the needs of their families, the flood of information about both the virus and the government responses to it, all while working at crucial jobs that we all depend on.

Immigrants and citizens: We are all in this together.

Veena Iyer
Veena Iyer
Any one of us could fall victim to Covid-19. The virus does not discriminate by race or ethnicity: It’s an equal opportunity attacker. We all need to maintain social distance, to self-isolate if we have symptoms, to get tested, and to get treatment.

Less likely to have health insurance, access to care

Yet immigrants, and especially undocumented immigrants, are far less likely to have health insurance and access to medical care. Apart from humanitarian concerns, making sure that they have access to health care is good public policy to protect everyone. Making medical care available to all Minnesotans means greater protection for all Minnesotans, and a quicker road to containing this pandemic.

Besides medical care, we all need food and shelter and, yes, toilet paper, too. With unemployment numbers skyrocketing and the economy plunging into recession, families need help to stay afloat.

No help from Congress for the undocumented

Congress passed emergency legislation that will provide emergency cash assistance to most taxpayers and their children — but not to undocumented taxpayers and not to their U.S. citizen children. Many immigrants pay taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), specifically created for people who are not eligible for Social Security numbers, so they can still pay taxes. Under the recent emergency bill, taxpayers using ITINs are denied assistance.

Congress also authorized unemployment compensation for most workers, extending these payments for the first time to freelancers and gig workers — but not to undocumented workers.

We need to take care of the people who care for our elderly and sick family members, for our neighbors aging in place, for children in day care centers. We need to take care of people who milk cows and plant vegetables and deliver food to our grocery stores and doorsteps. We need to take care of all Minnesotans, not just citizens and permanent residents.

We are all in this together.

Veena Iyer is the executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota.

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