NC Policy Watch: Left behind: Immigrant communities try to navigate COVID-19 with language barriers, lack of resources

Just two weeks ago, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement(ICE) agents attempted to detain an undocumented worker in Cary just after the enforcement agency announced plans to limit enforcement actions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the largest national public health crisis gripping the nation, already vulnerable communities are being left behind. For immigrant populations, safety concerns, gaps in communication and lack of protections could leave them defenseless and unable to receive vital resources or the healthcare services they need.

From N.C. Policy Watch:

“As far as we know, they have not stopped their normal operations,” said Juan Miranda, a lead Siembra organizer.

ICE has also stated that during the COVID-19 crisis, it will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, “except in the most extraordinary of circumstances.”

It’s not clear what would constitute an extraordinary circumstance, but the agency makes clear that undocumented individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear immigration enforcement.

Immigration advocates and attorneys are hammering the same message. They’re also emphasizing that seeking medical care for COVID-19 – the disease that is caused by the new coronavirus –  will not count against undocumented immigrants under the Trump administration’s new public charge rules.

“Public charge” is a term that refers to immigrants who the government believes will rely on public assistance. The new rule expands the definition of who would be considered a public charge so that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can “ensure applicants [for lawful admission to the country] are self-sufficient.”

“You should be seeking immediate help for the coronavirus if you believe that you have any symptoms,” said Moises Serrano, political director at El Pueblo, an organization specializing in leadership development for both youth and adults among Wake County’s growing Latinx community.

With North Carolina having over 800,000 immigrants (foreign-born individuals), implementing a centralized place to gain information and understand important safety measures should be in place for those who may not be able to access it.

Those who do not speak English as their first language should have equal access to the daily information being expressed by the governor’s office as well as other health services.

Executive orders in other states have already been signed in order to ensure that refugee and immigrant communities have equal access to benefits and services. Protections should also be in place to maintain safety and security for those within these communities. 

North Carolina should follow suit and protect those who are vulnerable, especially during a time that so many need health care services, economic relief and programs that could assist them.

For more Spanish-language information about COVID-19:

Alanna Joyner

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