Undocumented immigrants in Mississippi are worried about families, jobs, health and whether they will be deported if they try to get tested. Many work in restaurants, cleaning jobs and other businesses hit hard by coronavirus.
(Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash.)
Mississippi’s Undocumented Face COVID-19 Challenges
Work Stability, Medical Access, Healthy Children and Status Top Their Concerns
by Mauricio J. Quijano
Miguel Hernández* left his street fruit stall in Toluca, Mexico, and arrived in the United States four months ago. He came looking for a better future for his family because selling fruit was not enough to afford all their needs. In this country, he found the financial resources he needed to help them. Hernández worked in construction for three months and is now serving chips and salsa in a Mississippi restaurant. But the coronavirus has him scared in more than one way.
His biggest concern is being fired if his employer cuts expenses due to poor client attendance in the face of the health threat. "Everything was going well until the coronavirus panic scared customers away," Hernández said this week.
Hernández earns $60 a day for nine hours of work. At the end of the month he has enough to pay the rent for a bed, and sends most of the money to his four children and his wife back in Toluca.
He has no health insurance, though. When he asked what he would do if he starts showing symptoms of coronavirus, he said he would go home to be cured by himself. “I will do my best to not pay for a consultation at a health center,” Hernández said.
One of the main concerns of undocumented immigrants in the face of the coronavirus is being out of money, so they continue to go out into the streets during the recommended quarantine. Some have savings to sustain themselves, but others do not.
Given the threat of the virus, people with symptoms have been ordered to go to their health-care provider, but the majority of undocumented people the Mississippi Free Press spoke to this week lack a health-care provider, and at the moment that is another of their major concerns.
‘I Don’t Have Insurance’
Carlos Quintero*, 29, leaves a Mississippi supermarket with his family after stocking up to face the quarantine. He has a huge 2013 Chevrolet truck where his wife and two young children ride with him. Quintero has been a construction worker for five years since he came to the United States looking to better support his family, and has some savings to support himself for a couple of months if the coronavirus quarantine is long.
However, Quintero is concerned about the coronavirus, saying that construction jobs have decreased because some do not want to leave their homes to work on construction sites. He is afraid that will affect his family’s finances in the long term.
Quintero, who does not have a health-care provider, is unhappy with the cost of the consultation to find out if he is sick with coronavirus. But he would be willing to go to a clinic if necessary.
“If I feel symptoms of coronavirus, I would go to a health center. I don't have insurance, but I have gone before for accidents like cuts and things like that,” he said.
Quintero says that some medical centers allow uninsured people like him to establish a monthly payment plan after receiving emergency treatment, and says he must instead pay for an appointment in advance to determine if he is infected with the virus.
‘People Are Afraid to Go to the Doctor’
Karla Vázquez, a legal assistant at Elmore & Peterson law firm in Jackson and a member of the advisory board of the Mississippi Free Press, works with immigrants in Mississippi. Now, during the coronavirus outbreak, Vázquez is hearing four major concerns from immigrant people involving work, health insurance, care of their children and status issues that may discourage them from seeking medical care or testing.
Like people in this article, Vázquez says people are worried about their jobs. “What is going to happen with the small business owners’ stores, Hispanic stores; and people working in restaurants, construction or housekeeping,” she said.
Likewise, undocumented families are worried about how to seek and get medical care. “People are afraid to go to the doctor because they will not have money to pay the bills or the questions regarding their status,” she said.
Undocumented workers are especially worried about their children. “They can’t go to work and leave the kids at home, and they don’t have enough money to feed them three times a day plus snacks,” Vázquez said. “They are missing breakfast and lunch at school.”
Ultimately, concerns about legal status, and fears of being deported, can keep undocumented immigrants from seeking the care needed. “I think the main point is keep explaining to them the severity of this virus and the need to follow instructions,” she said.
‘I Don’t Want to Cut Staff’
Alicia Lagos*, a Honduran woman who goes to the same market as Quintero, works as a housekeeper in a Pearl, Miss., hotel where she is less and less needed due to the shrinking attendance of clients because of the coronavirus.
In fact, Alicia has already gotten an additional job cleaning offices with which she hopes to solve her financial anguish during the recommended quarantine.
"The number of tourists is low, and my employer gives me fewer rooms to clean, so I took the new job," said Lagos, who has been in America for 15 years and does not have health insurance. She says that if she suffers from coronavirus symptoms she would lock himself in her house before going to a hospital for fear of medical expenses.
Antonio Zambrano*, 53, employs undocumented workers. He told the Mississippi Free Press that if the losses continue for more than five months, it will no longer be profitable to maintain his business, the same challenge many locally owned businesses are facing. The first measure he would likely have to take, although he does not want to implement it, is to cut staff.
"I hope clients don't panic because I don't want to cut staff," he says.
Zambrano arrived from Mexico 20 years ago to work, obtained American citizenship 15 years ago, and now has a health provider he will consult if he suffers from coronavirus symptoms, he said.
Mauricio J. Quijano is a journalist from Colombia. He worked for seven years in newspapers writing on different topics ranging from murder to economics. He has a master’s degree in Business Education from Mississippi College and is currently enrolled in a program at Hinds Community College. Email story tips from around Mississippi to email@example.com.
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