Since the early stages of COVID-19, the drastic racial disparities that the pandemic has exposed became central in the national conversation and are clear examples that intersectionality matters. The fact is that people of color are far more likely to contract the virus, be hospitalized and die from coronavirus than their white neighbors, as reported by the CDC on August 18.
And while our skin color doesn't inherently put us in the high risk categories, race and ethnicity are risk markers for other conditions that impact health such as occupation, access to health care, socio-economic status and quarantine reality.
Blanca Fabiola Madrigal, a psychology grad school student at the University of Utah, who works with immigrant and undocumented families on the West Side of Salt Lake City, refers to these disparities as “further marginalization.” She said, “Deportation affects your livelihood, and COVID affects your health. And you are not dealing with one or the other, both are being attacked at the same time. It is hard to be an undocumented person during COVID.”
Furthermore, the lack of access to resources that immigrant communities face creates an extra burden. “You either don't have a job or you are being overworked. The toll on undocumented and immigrant workers is so heavy,” Madrigal said, “and families have children looking after children, putting their mental and physical health at risk.”
Madrigal worked at the Department of Child and Family Services in the West Valley area and after the 2016 election outcome, she gathered people around the community to create safe spaces for families like hers. She started the first Spanish-speaking support group at the Mountainview-Glendale Community Learning Center and is also a part of Unidad Inmigrante, an intersectional grassroots collective which advocates for and addresses issues that impact the immigrant community in Salt Lake City.
But Madrigal’s personal experience growing up as an undocumented immigrant and her work organizing in the community have led her to her current career. “What gets my heart are individual families; I really like one-on-one work. Changing and influencing one person’s life is so valuable, and it helps the whole community to uplift each other,” she said. Madrigal works with first generation students at the Diversity Scholars at the University of Utah and is currently assisting three immigrant families and their kids.
When I dug into the ways that COVID-19 has affected her work, Madrigal stated that one of the biggest challenges is the one-on-one time these families need. As we all know by now, in- person interactions have been drastically reduced in our lives. But for immigrants and undocumented folks this has also meant major role changes and new risks.
With the largest Salt Lake City school-age population living in the area (20% of the population) and 74.5% of Salt Lake City’s Hispanic residents, many west-side students are taking online classes unattended, while also taking care of younger kids. Meanwhile, parents and adults are being exposed to the virus at work and increasing their daily risk. In Utah, CDC data shows that 58% of workplace outbreak-associated COVID-19 cases have been in three main sectors (Manufacturing, Wholesale Trade, and Construction) and Hispanic and non-White workers have accounted for 73% of workplace outbreak-associated coronavirus cases. “They (kids and families) are in a state of anxiety, fear and loneliness,” Madrigal said, referring to what she has seen and learned during the past months.
Lastly, immigration is not slowing down because there is a global pandemic. As a real world example, Madrigal's sister-in-law has been put in deportation proceedings after her U-Visa case was abruptly rejected this month. ICE continues their mission of separating families and for immigrants facing deportation during COVID-19, detention centers pose other risks.
The research, findings and reality of our communities of color during these times are numbing, but west-side community members are supporting one another. “Older Mexican folks are helping their neighbors,” such as making extra food and going grocery shopping, she said. Organizers are helping with case management, such as applying for unemployment, rent relief, or providing COVID resource flyers.“There is a lot of need and a lot of action,” Madrigal said. And while these types of actions don’t always make the news, neighborhood support is happening all around us.