The pandemic prompts the United States government to call foreign doctors and shield undocumented immigrants who work in the fields.
The Trump Administration urges foreign medical professionals, especially those working with Covid-19, to contact consulates to expedite the processing of their visas so that they can join the U.S. fight against the coronavirus as soon as possible. He also calls “essential” jobs, such as harvesting crops, which he knows undocumented immigrants do. And he announces that he will not carry out raids in search of without papers, to avoid that their fear of going to the doctor generates foci of contagion.
The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the importance of immigrant workers in the American economy. And it has exposed some contradictions in the heavy-handed policy with immigration that is one of the pillars of President Donald Trump’s speech. The paradox arises that, while the border guard accelerates the hot expulsion of undocumented immigrants held in their centers, the Administration does little more than shield the undocumented in the field, and facilitates the entry of qualified immigrants to alleviate the shortage of professionals. doctors to fight the pandemic on the front line.
It happens just as the country wakes up from the sweet dream of full employment, and faces historic unemployment figures. More than 16 million people, one in 10 workers in the country, have applied for unemployment benefits between the last two weeks of March and the first week of April. Experts have no doubt that millions more will follow. Donald Trump, who has endorsed the slogan of “buying American and hiring American”, is now between two forces: businessmen who urge him to relax with immigration to contain the collapse of the economy, and activists anti-immigration, whom he has encouraged for more than three years, who react angrily to any hint of a change in attitude at the most critical moment.
“We want them to come,” Trump said April 1 of immigrants coming to work in the fields. “We are not closing the border so that all those people cannot enter. They have been there for years and years, and I have given my commitment to the farmers: they will continue to come. ”
Strawberry picking is beginning these days in the California countryside. In two weeks, it will be cherries and blueberries. In May, apricots and nectarines. A University of California study estimates that 800,000 people work in the California agricultural industry. The lowest estimate is that 60% are undocumented. These days of isolation, are the hands that guarantee that there is fresh fruit and vegetables in supermarkets.
These workers have always feared the police. Since California approved the quarantine order on May 19, another reason to ask for the papers has been added: the police monitor that only “essential” workers go out on the street. The irony of the moment is that the undocumented from the fields are both essential workers. Without them the food supply chain does not work. “If it weren’t for them, how many people would be without food in the store,” says Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League, a major union in Fresno, California, by phone.
Seven weeks ago, Cunha began to send producer associations a standard letter to sign. It is a kind of safe-conduct. “In just a paragraph, the name of the worker, the farmer he works for, and the phone number are stated. If you are stopped by a police officer or the sheriff, you only have to show the letter, they call the farmer and he confirms that the person is moving to work. ” The associations have distributed the letters among Fresno’s huge agricultural productions, he says, and he estimates that they have already printed some 400,000.
A global pandemic has had to come for US administrations to recognize in writing that irregular immigrants cannot be dispensed with. Nor terrorize them. On March 18, the immigration police (ICE) announced that it was halting the raids and indiscriminate arrests of undocumented immigrants. Only arrests of dangerous criminals will go ahead. The criterion in the Trump presidency is to arrest as many people as possible.
The ICE statement expressly stated that there will be no arrests near health services, such as hospitals. “People should not avoid medical care for fear of the activity of the immigration police,” he says. It is an assumption that the coronavirus does not ask for the papers. The change in criteria, although temporary, extends to health what was already evident in the field of public security in all major cities in the United States, where the police do not ask anyone for the papers so that they are not afraid to report crimes. or testify. This is called sanctuary policies and it is one of Trump’s obsessions. The coronavirus has forced Trump to declare de facto all sanctuary hospitals.
The crisis has also forced the Government to search outside its borders for professionals with whom to combat the pandemic in the country’s hospitals. “We encourage medical professionals seeking work in the United States on a work or exchange visa, especially those working on Covid-19 issues, to contact the nearest embassy or consulate to obtain an appointment.” The message was released on March 26 by the State Department. Six days earlier, routine visa services at embassies around the world had been suspended, reduced to essential services and focused on the repatriation of Americans.
The message, posted on the State Department’s website and broadcast on social media, sparked a flurry of calls from medical professionals to inquire about the apparent invitation to start a process that, under normal conditions, can take years. Also criticism in the networks for what was interpreted as the promotion of a brain drain that could be lethal for countries that are fighting a pandemic that limits their resources. The next day, the State Department had to issue a “clarification”: The message was addressed only, they said, to those professionals who had already been admitted to work or study in the United States.
“I must confess that perhaps what we published was not as clear as it should have been,” said Ian Brownlee of the Office of Consular Affairs in a telephone briefing with journalists. “These are people who were already ready to come, we are not looking for others,” he clarified. Asked why then to post the ad, if no special treatment was being offered, Brownlee replied that he would have to look “how all this happened.”
It was not the only measure reconsidered (or clarified) after sparking controversy. On March 5, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would increase the temporary worker visas available by 35,000 this year. It is a visa that allows employers to bring in foreign workers for temporary non-agricultural activities, such as hospitality or tourism. Employers often advocate a quota increase, but supporters of reducing immigration believe the practice makes wages cheaper and prevents Americans from accessing those jobs.
On April 2, after the publication of the alarming employment data, the Government announced that the plan to expand the quota was suspended “due to current economic circumstances.” The problem is that many employers view foreign workers as crucial to certain jobs that are difficult to fill with US citizens. And more when now they can obtain more income with unemployment benefits and other aid contemplated in the gigantic plan to stimulate the economy. “Immigrants are working in supermarkets, in the fields, processing food, in construction. They are the people who, in times of emergency, keep this country running, ”defends Sindy Benavides, director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. “I am confident that this crisis will, as a society,