'Fighting on the front line': thousands of 'dreamers' helping fight COVID-19 fear deportation
Veronica Velazquez's job as a physiotherapist at the Los Angeles Community Hospital, California, has become more risky as the number of patients with coronavirus has grown. But the risk of losing her working documents and deportation has not changed. Writes about it USA Today.
27-year-old Velazquez is one of the nearly 700 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as a child and rely on the Deferred Arrival of Children Program, or DACA, which US President Donald Trump wants to stop.
Her situation, as well as the approximately 27 recipients working as doctors, nurses and other health workers, is precarious.
“I'm treating people who have a suspicion of COVID-19, and all I ask is to stay in this country and provide this help,” Velazquez says. “We definitely help them stay alive.”
Journalists spoke with DACA recipients working in the healthcare field in California, Florida, Texas, and in the suburbs of New York, where the coronavirus has spread most. Some face shortages of personal protective equipment, often wearing the same masks throughout the hospital shift. Others are well-off, but still nervous.
Jesus Contreras helped fight Hurricane Harvey in Houston three years ago, a monstrous storm that caused flooding and injured many people. The virus, he said, poses a much greater threat.
“We have not yet fully realized its potential,” says 26-year-old Contreras. “What worries me most is that we have to decide which patients will receive treatment and which will wait.”
This is not his only concern. Contreras himself must worry about not becoming infected with the virus, as well as staying in the country; he came from Mexico in 1999.
“I’m not only worried, but also cautious, I realize the degree of risk that my field of activity carries,” he says. “But we will not only have to worry about this pandemic, we need to worry about our immigration status and deportation.”
“It will be disastrous”
President Barack Obama sought to soften the DACA recipient policy in 2012 by creating this program.
The Trump administration is prone to downsizing. Federal courts from California to New York intervened, leaving the program pending a Supreme Court decision.
During a verbal debate in November, the conservative majority of the court seemed to side with the administration. If judges simply refuse to reverse the decision of the Department of Homeland Security, the new president will be able to resume the program with the same ease. If they declare the entire program illegal, Congress must intervene.
In legal documents submitted in October 2019, the Association of American Medical Colleges referred to federal “pandemic risk” warnings as a reason for DACA recipients to contribute to the “workforce”.
“Infectious diseases can spread across the globe in a matter of days due to increased urbanization and international travel,” the Association warned. “These conditions pose a threat to the health safety of US citizens.”
The Yale Law School Law Office sent a letter to the Supreme Court stating that the administration’s decision to terminate the DACA should be blocked due to a pandemic.
“Health care providers at the forefront of our country against COVID-19 rely heavily on DACA recipients to do important work,” the statement said.
“The termination of DACA during this emergency in the country will be catastrophic,” the letter said.
This all got a political connotation when Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden warned that such a decision would “leave a gaping hole in the healthcare system that could cost Americans their lives.”
“Just my calling”
In Northern California, 27-year-old Ana Cueva works 12-hour shifts as a nurse in the intensive care unit of a public hospital. She wanted to become a nurse from the age of 9 when she arrived in Utah from Mexico.
“Hospitals are not adequately prepared for a pandemic of this magnitude. They distribute equipment, in particular masks, ”says Kueva. “I don’t really agree to be exposed to certain diseases - viruses, pandemics, etc. - because the government was not ready for this.”
In Fort Myers, Florida, 26-year-old paramedic Aldo Martinez worked a 48-hour shift to help the patient with COVID-19.
A Mexican native who arrived in the United States at the age of 12, Martinez saw what happens when colleagues are forced to quarantine on their own, resulting in a shortage of staff.
"This is madness. We learn on the go, ”he says. According to him, if DACA recipients lose their ability to work, it will “create even more chaos in an already chaotic situation.”
In northern New Jersey, about an hour's drive from New York, a health worker who came from South Korea at the age of 11 is afraid to infect his wife and parents. His hospital, like many, is facing a shortage of protective equipment.
“It's very complicated,” says 32-year-old Daniel, who did not want to reveal his last name because of his immigration status. “Everyone is becoming very troubled.”
For Velazquez, a native of the Philippines who came to the United States when she was 11 years old, coronavirus became a sharp awakening. Her hospital set up three tents to prepare for the expected influx of patients.
“Many of the patients become weak, and they cannot even get out of bed due to bad breathing, which causes weakness in their muscles,” she says. “This is where physiotherapy is needed.”
“This is just my calling. “I worked a lot to become a physiotherapist,” she says. “I knew that this is what I want to do, both during and without a pandemic.”
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