The COVID-19 pandemic posed an immediate threat to immigrants at the outset when traditional ethnic foods became suddenly and widely popular to Americans stockpiling for quarantine.
Even Latino groceries were raided as social distancing ramped up, raising the specter of hunger for a population without the time or money to build up food supplies in an emergency, said Sue Smith, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel and executive director of LUCHA Ministries, which serves immigrant populations in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
“Some of the major products that immigrant families consider their staples – like rice, dry beans and masa flour to make tortillas – disappeared off the shelves really, really quickly,” Smith said.
‘They pay taxes’
But food shortages aren’t the only dilemmas faced by immigrant communities in the U.S. in the coronavirus era.
Already slim budgets are shrinking due to job losses or reduced hours and many are reluctant to seek medical care due to their documentation status. Still, others face heightened health risks while languishing in government detention centers.
Immigrants also do not receive stimulus payments and are ineligible for unemployment even though their income is taxed.
“Their needs are just as great as those who have a Social Security number,” Smith said. “They’re not going to be seeing the same kind of assistance even though they pay taxes and have worked and lived here for many years.”
Marc and Kim Wyatt, CBF field personnel who coordinate church-based refugee ministries in North Carolina, urge Christians to donate stimulus checks to unemployed immigrants.
“We’re not all in jeopardy of losing our jobs or our house, but these folks are,” Marc Wyatt said.
Giving stimulus checks to this cause is a matter of good stewardship and citizenship.
“Use those dollars to stimulate the economy by giving those dollars to the folks that have lost their jobs and need to pay their rent and buy groceries,” he said.
Concerns also are mounting about immigrant detainees at high risk of contracting COVID-19 in detention centers.
“There’s absolutely no way for them to isolate themselves away from anyone who’s showing any symptoms,” Smith said.
‘Rooted in Christian belief’
The issue has gotten the attention of leaders of major American evangelical groups, including the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the National Association of Evangelicals and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Council.
They urged the White House recently to release non-violent detainees to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“Our concern is rooted in our Christian belief that each human life is made in the image of God and thus precious, and, like you, we want to do everything possible to minimize the loss of life as a result of this pandemic,” the group said in a letter to the Trump administration.
It’s simply the right thing to do, added Marv Knox, coordinator of CBF’s Fellowship Southwest, which works with immigrants and others in need along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Some kind of a controlled release and an opportunity for folks to stay with sponsors would be a very positive step in the right direction,” he told Baptist News Global.
Knox said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has the ability to put released detainees on electronic monitoring systems and require check-ins.
“There are other ways that they can allow people to move about in their communities, to go home and isolate with their families and shelter in place,” Knox said.
Elket Rodriguez, CBF’s immigration advocacy coordinator, emphasized that the government does not lose control of immigration cases by releasing non-violent detainees.
Immigrants can continue their case while they’re outside of detention centers and protecting themselves from COVID-19.
“It’s not like the judge is losing jurisdiction over it,” Rodriguez said. “They are going to practice social distancing in a better way. You are saving lives by releasing these people. It is a matter of common sense.”
Besides, Smith said, 60 percent of detainees in those facilities have no criminal record at all.
“We’re not talking about releasing criminals,” Smith said.