WASHINGTON — More than two-thirds of undocumented immigrant workers have frontline jobs considered "essential" to the U.S. fight against Covid-19, according to a new study released Wednesday by pro-immigration reform group FWD.US.
Sixty-nine percent of undocumented immigrant workers have jobs deemed essential by the Department of Homeland Security, according to the study, which is based on the 2019 American Community Survey by the Census Bureau. The study also estimated that nearly one in five essential workers is an immigrant.
By contrast, the Trump administration has argued that protecting American jobs against foreign workers is crucial to fixing the economic harm caused by Covid-19.
In April, Trump signed an executive order temporarily suspending immigration to "ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy reopens." In June, Trump extended the order through the end of the year.
Undocumented immigrants make up 11 percent of agriculture workers, 2 percent of healthcare workers and 6 percent of food services and production workers, the study estimated.
Elizabeth Valencia, 54, on Temporary Protected Status that allows some Salvadorans to work and live in the United States, said she was the only geriatric nursing assistant serving 28 Covid-19 positive residents at a nursing home in Maryland earlier this year after an outbreak affected the staff.
Valencia has lived in the U.S. for 20 years and has worked in the nursing home for almost 18 years, starting as cleaning staff before she trained to be a nursing assistant.
Valencia said all of her co-workers on the floor where she cares for dementia patients are immigrants.
"[The residents] cannot survive by themselves," she said. "They need us."
The study also found that 70 percent of the immigrants working in essential jobs have lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years and 60 percent speak English.
Nearly one million of the essential workers are "Dreamers" protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the study found. Although DACA, enacted by former President Barack Obama, won a challenge by the Trump administration in a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year, a new case in Texas could end the policy.
DACA recipient Jonathan Rodas works as an operating room assistant at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center while he is attending nursing school. Rodas and his entire household, including his undocumented stepfather, all tested positive for Covid-19 in July. They have now all fully recovered and no one was hospitalized.
But Rodas said he was especially worried about his stepfather needing to be hospitalized because he, like other undocumented immigrants, does not have health insurance. Rodas is now back to work. He said he is not surprised by the study that found one in five essential workers are immigrants.
"There's not a lot of people out there who want to do that job because they're scared of it," Rodas said, talking about working in a hospital during a pandemic. "I'm scared of it. But I do it for the patient. The passion that I have to help people out."