The Unseen Plight of Undocumented Workers in the US During the Pandemic

The United States marked another grim milestone this week, reporting a record 2,921 deaths due to COVID-19 on Thursday. The country has recorded a total of over 288,000 deaths since February and 15 million total cases.

Despite these horrific numbers, there still remain hundreds of thousands of unreported infections and thousands of deaths that are left out of official counts. Undocumented workers in the US are at a unique risk of being under-reported, as their lack of citizenship and the ever-present threat of detention and deportation prevents them from seeking assistance, medical or otherwise.

During the crisis triggered by the pandemic, the undocumented, a particularly abused and exploited section of the working class, face even greater challenges than before. These workers live not just in fear of deportation, homelessness, or destitution, but are increasingly forced to suffer the prospect of contracting COVID-19 alone, unseen, and denied care.

Making up nearly 6 percent of the American workforce, undocumented workers fuel industries like agriculture, manufacturing, meatpacking and animal husbandry, as well as the broader service industry, which includes food services, building and outdoor maintenance, and construction.

Across the United States, more than 2.5 million farm workers and almost 2 million food service workers are undocumented immigrants, constituting almost half of all farm workers in the United States and almost a quarter of food service work. Undocumented workers provide up to 30 percent of the labor in the service industry in California.

Despite the “essential” label tacked onto these industries during the pandemic, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has refused to require or enforce any kind of COVID-19 safety measures for workers.

COVID-19 has ripped through the agricultural industry and its “essential” workers. Research by Purdue University estimates that more than 145,000 farm workers have tested positive for COVID-19. This number, while staggering, does not include temporary laborers as well as those who could not be tested—most likely undocumented workers.

By Melody Isley for WSWS.ORG
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