We all know that the novel coronavirus infects people from all walks of life, all economic groups, ages, genders, religions, nationalities etc. We also know that to have any chance of minimizing the spread of this pandemic free testing needs to be available to anyone who thinks they might have the symptoms. Equally important is being able to trace contacts of those who test positive. Yet, there are people living in our communities who may not come in for testing or who may be unwilling to name contacts for fear of putting themselves or their contacts at risk for deportation. Public health departments must double their efforts to reach out to our immigrant communities and publicly state that no one who comes in for testing, nor anyone they list as a contact will have their information turned over to ICE or be put at risk in any way. We must all work to ensure that this promise is kept here in Iowa and at the national level.
Lost wages and lack of health insurance both have a significant negative effect keeping people and their communities safe The proposal that Gov. Reynolds has put forth regarding unemployment compensation is a start, but with all its requirements it fails to cover the poorest of the poor, undocumented or not. Many people who have worked at now nonexistent hourly wage jobs do not meet these requirements. Like all of us they still need to pay rent, and feed their families.
Additionally, there is the fear in the immigrant communities that because of the new federal “Public Charge” rule, those who do meet the requirements for aid such as unemployment benefits, medical assistance, food stamps etc. may later have this used against them if they become eligible to apply for a green card. (Although USCIS says that seeking treatment for COVID-19 will not count as public aid, this is not well-known or trusted by the immigrant community.) ICE has announced that it has basically stopped making arrests. This is a welcome change. However it does not stem from a change of heart in the government. but rather the awareness on their part that the conditions the detainees are housed in will prove catastrophic if/when COVID-19 appears in the population.
Every day we see heartwarming stories of neighbors and religious communities doing their best to take care of their fellow citizens. That is amazing. But national, state and local governments need to step in. That support cannot just be for the airlines and Wall Street. One would hope that Iowa would provide unemployment insurance and health care benefits, and issue a moratorium on deportations, because these are the right things to do.
But at this point it goes beyond doing the right thing. Whatever your feelings about undocumented immigrants or the working poor or even the nonworking poor, it can now be seen as a matter of our own self-interest to meet these needs. We are in a pandemic. This is a public health emergency and we are all a part of the public.
Joan Schnabel M.D Family Practice and Jennie Schmidt Ph.D.