Undocumented and low-income workers face high economic risk amid coronavirus crisis: Menendez

Undocumented and low-income workers face high economic risk amid coronavirus crisis: Menendez

By:  Teri West
Jersey Journal


PASSAIC — Coronavirus doesn’t discriminate based on wealth or immigration status and neither should hospitals and employers, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez said Monday.

The Democratic senator from New Jersey spoke during an event at the North Hudson Community Action Corporation Health Center, a federally funded resource for low-income families. He offered the same message in both Spanish and English: this center is available to anyone, regardless of their insurance or immigration status. 

The global pandemic that has killed over 3,800 people worldwide reached Hudson County on Sunday when a 32-year-old West New York man tested as a “presumed positive." 

“No one should be discouraged from seeking help just because they’re afraid of the cost, especially during a public health emergency,” Menendez said. “We need everyone who falls ill to be able to see a doctor, get tested, get treated and take the precautions necessary to protect the community at large.”

According to the Census Bureau, 13.2 percent of the county is uninsured. Union City has the highest rate of uninsured residents in the state: 30%. 

Meanwhile, Hudson County has an estimated 84,000 immigrants who are in the country illegally, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Menendez said he has urged the Department of Homeland Security to remove immigration enforcement, such as ICE officers from hospitals, to allow undocumented immigrants to seek help without fear.

Undocumented immigrants go to hospitals but often prefer health clinics where they can pay in cash, said Victor Salama, executive director of First Friends of New York and New Jersey, which advocates for and supports detained immigrants.

“Many times it’s the (immigration) status issue but also it’s a financial issue,” he said. “These are challenging times for people and especially if businesses are slow and they’re worried, so for them to make an out-of-pocket expense they’d rather stay home.” 

Low-income Americans often face greater financial risk when society begins to shut down during a health crisis. With school closures, working parents might scramble to find someone to stay home with their child. If they find themselves ill or caring for children, they may risk losing a paycheck or their job altogether.

Providing for those Americans rather than the large corporations that are impacted should be the priority right now, Menendez said.

Both employers and the federal government should work to ensure that all workers have access to paid sick leave and expanded unemployment insurance, he added.

Undocumented immigrants face hurdles in finding jobs, so the potential for losing them given the downward trend of the economy is Salama’s primary concern.

“A lot of them are just bottom of the totem pole from an employment perspective,” Salama said. “They’re living literally week-to-week, month-to-month.”