Immigrants are essential

Estefania Martinez, international fellow, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office.


Do you ever think about the importance of your big toe? According to Scientific American, the big toe carries about 40% of our weight. Also, because it is the last part of the foot to push off the ground before taking the next step, without it we lose balance, strength and the ability to easily move forward.

Similarly, how often do we think about the importance of essential workers in the United States? A pandemic that has affected all of us has caused us to realize the importance of workers in hospitals, factories, delivery trucks, grocery stores and fields. They have contributed so that we continue to have food on our tables. They guarantee the production and transport of food so that supermarkets aren’t out of stock. They transport waste from our homes, keep public transport and ride-hailing services running and keep our hospitals operating to treat us when we get sick.

According to a recent report from the Center for Immigration Studies, 69% of all immigrants in the workforce and 74% of undocumented workers are “essential infrastructure workers.” Almost 20 million immigrants work to meet health, infrastructure, manufacturing, food, safety and other critical needs. In the U.S., immigrants represent 16% of all health care workers, 24% of medical equipment manufacturing workers, 28% of janitors and cleaners, 23% of disinfection workers, 23% of transportation industry workers, 26% of supermarket employees and 31% of agricultural workers.

Immigrants continue working despite the high risk of exposure and infection at meatpacking plants, farms and in the health care system.  But, sadly, their work remains unrecognized and is often overshadowed by anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Many immigrants were excluded from the benefits provided by the CARES Act, approved by Congress in March, even though they pay taxes and need the same access to food, shelter and health care as anyone else in the U.S.

Dayri Sambula arrived in the U.S. in 2015 with her son, fleeing persecution in her home country of Honduras. She has received asylum status and now works full time as a home health aide. MCC Photo/Laura Pauls-Thomas.

In 1 Corinthians 12:20-25 Paul talks about the importance of each member of our body and how the members that might seem weak are, in fact, indispensable. Paul notes that those members thought of by some as less honorable should be the ones we treat with greater respect. All members are one body and are dependent on one another.

We are called to recognize the importance of each person, to be a society where people take care of each other regardless of race, skin color, gender or immigration status. “But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member,” Paul wrote, “that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:24-25).

We must recognize that immigrants are vital to keeping our country running, no less so during a global pandemic. Excluding them from economic assistance ignores the call to be one body and to care for each precious member. Urge your members of Congress to include all immigrants in any future aid package and to create more just and fair policies to protect those who are risking so much to care for others and to keep vital services running during the COVID-19 outbreak.


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