Updated June 25, 2020 

How does COVID-19 impact immigrant populations?   

Immigrant communities, particularly those in low-income areas, and undocumented immigrant families have been particularly high-risk during the coronavirus pandemic. Not only do immigrants make up a large proportion of essential workers, but as states begin to reopen immigrant communities are made even more vulnerable. Border states like Florida and Texas were amongst the first to reopen and have seen huge spikes in cases of COVID-19 – these states also have some of the largest immigrant and undocumented immigrant populations in our country.  

Many people who have immigrated, whether documented or undocumented, hold hourly service work positions that do not provide them with paid sick leave or the ability to work from home. According to the Center for Migration Studies, immigrants make up 16 percent of health care workers, 23 percent of US transportation service workers and 24 percent of workers in medical equipment manufacturing. Financial barriers also play a role in COVID-19’s impact on the community, as the cost of medical care may be unrealistic for immigrants and their families. Acording to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2019, 23 percent of immigrants and 45 percent of undocumented immigrants were uninsured.  

Additionally, President Trump’s public charge rule discourages immigrants from using “means-tested welfare programs” such as Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), both of which are critical in the present moment. Undocumented immigrant communities were also not eligible for stimulus checks provided by the COVID-19 relief package, even though many may be considered essential workers and are at higher risk of contracting the virus.  

  There are many other barriers for immigrants and undocumented immigrants as well. Language barriers can make it difficult for immigrants to access information about testing, quarantining, and safety-precautions. Fear of ICE raids or of having their undocumented status discovered may also stop them from going to the hospital when ill.  

 How does COVID-19 impact detention centers?   

Undocumented immigrants being held in detention centers are at especially high risk because they do not have the ability to social distance from others. People in detention centers with underlying health conditions or who are over the age of 60 are in a very vulnerable position that is out of their control.  

On April 8th, in the Krome detention center, 238 detainees were put into quarantine because someone at the center tested positive. Shortages of cleaning supplies, hand sanitizers, etc. have also made it very difficult to stay safe from the virus in detention centers. Detainees have depicted unsafe conditions, like being forced to clean the centers without adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and multiple day “lockdowns” that leave them without adequate food and the ability to shower. These detainees should be released immediately, as they are being held in unsafe, unsanitary, and inhumane conditions.  

ICE has indicated that they are reviewing cases of high-risk detainees and releasing those who are vulnerable, however this still leaves detention centers as hotspots for outbreaks of the virus. ICE has also reported (as of June 4th) that 1,623 detainees have tested positive for Coronavirus and that two detainees passed away from the virus while in ICE custody. The number of immigrants testing positive in ICE facilities is on a steep incline. More information about ICE’s data reporting and testing can be found here.    

Resources for Activists  

 Resources for Immigrant Women and Families  

For undocumented immigrants, being held in inhumane detention centers increases the risk of being infected by the COVID-19 virus. Visits to detention prisons are also being limited, leading to further isolation from the world and from their legal resources. For those not detained, fear of border patrol checkpoints and ICE raids are a barrier to seeking and receiving medical care along the border and across the United States.