Immigrant Workers are Essential Workers

By Cristina Godinez • October 5, 2020

Immigrant workers have long been known to take the 3D jobs that most Americans do not want – jobs that are dirty, dangerous or do not pay well. When Covid-19 hit us, the essential jobs turned out to be those that were dirty, dangerous, or do not pay well (at least not enough given the risks involved.)

So immigrant workers stepped up and carried on. It almost goes without saying that they are the front liners and essential workers who have kept America going in all critical aspects of the day-to-day, despite the cruel scourge of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a recent report, the Joint Economic Committee (JEC) of the United States Congress explicitly acknowledged that “immigrant workers are more likely to be ‘essential’”, explaining that they “are disproportionally impacted by the Covid-19 recession and can play a key role in helping to recover from it.” The report cites vital statistics that gives a stark, unequivocal view on the role of immigrant workers today:

  • Foreign-born workers are overrepresented in key occupations in the field of health, accounting for 38 percent of home health aides, 29 percent of physicians and 23 percent of pharmacists.
  • Immigrants make up 22 percent of all workers in the U.S. food supply chain, even though they comprise only 17 percent of the labor force.
  • Immigrants start approximately 25 percent of new firms in the United States.
  • Compared to 65 percent of the native-born labor force, a higher percentage (69 percent) of immigrants are in the essential work categories.

About three-fourths of undocumented immigrants in the labor force are in sectors classified as essential.
Immigrant workers from the Philippines, in particular, represent among the largest contingents of frontline workers in the U.S. healthcare system in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. They comprise close to a third of the 512,000 immigrants working as registered nurses (RNs) – often, the person potential Covid-19 patients see first when they present themselves at a medical center’s Emergency Department, and the person who administers the care they need as they fight their way to recovery.

Immigrant workers are also the cornerstone of America’s food security. More than half (or 53 percent) of U.S. farm workers – including undocumented persons- are foreign-born workers. In fact, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center points out that both legal and undocumented immigrants comprise close to a quarter of the country’s food production workforce.

Without them the food supply chain would be broken and, to put it quite plainly – we would have nothing to eat.
While it was heartening to witness New Yorkers pop out of their windows at 7pm to applaud essential workers or to see “thank-you-frontliner” lawn signs mushrooming in northern New Jersey, America needs to do better in showing its appreciation for those who have kept us all fed and cared for during this pandemic.

There are better ways for America to express its gratitude.

We will explore this in Part 2 of this article, which will cover how immigrant worker families have been excluded from the economic and social safety nets created to protect families during the Covid-19 crisis.

Cristina A. Godinez
Immigration Attorney

Immigration is a complicated process. Any person who decides to go through it could use the steady hand of an attorney who has undergone the experience and has acquired the technical expertise in a variety of law firm settings.

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