There are more than 4.9 million undocumented immigrants of Mexican decent in the U.S (Pew Research Center). Our paisanos contribute US $5 billion in U.S. tax receipts without expecting any benefits in return (Pew Research Center). All while many of our paisanos put their lives at risk during the COVID-19 outbreak, working on essential jobs in agriculture, food manufacturing, and other industries. They sacrifice themselves and work tirelessly with one primary objective in mind: set aside money for their families in the U.S. and Mexico. Last year, over US $36 billion in remittances were sent from the U.S. to Mexico (BBVA Research), comprising approximately 3% of Mexico’s GDP. These stats reflect only a fraction of the disproportionate contributions of undocumented immigrants to both economies.
Despite their contributions, our paisanos are now directly threatened in their wellbeing by the COVID-19 shock. This while not having any evident support system to safeguard them. Unless we act now.
COVID-19 threatens the Mexican diaspora in the U.S. in multiple ways. Among the most dire threats are:
Threat to health. Fearing deportation, many paisanos in the U.S. are reluctant to seek care for COVID-19 symptoms. Up to 55% lack health insurance (PMC). Although the immigrant community tends to be young and healthy, the prevalence of diabetes (a risk factor for severe COVID-19) is 22% among Latinos, the highest for any U.S. racial or ethnic group (NEJM). Yet, despite these risks, 56,000 undocumented immigrants work in vital roles in the health care industry, as nursing assistants, health aides, janitors and building maintenance workers (New American Economy). We cannot abandon those who sacrifice so much for our general welfare. We must help our paisanos to have access to adequate protective gear in the workplace and healthcare benefits to curve this threat.
Threat to household. Despite unemployment at record levels in the U.S., many paisanos do not have access to unemployment benefits and have no means to economically withstand $0 income for weeks. If this trend continues, these individuals have no choice but to default on their rent and credit payments, which will further exacerbate lack of access to capital in a post COVID-19 world. As credit costs inflate over time, the socio-economic dispersion between Latinos and Non-Latinos in the U.S. will only get worse from where it is today; adversely impacting quality of education, access to healthcare, and safety. We applaud the efforts of states like California that have made available $125 million in funds for these individuals and yet, this would only help approximately 250,000 individuals in a state that is the home of an estimated 1.2 million paisanos alone (PPIC). We need more stimulus funds to address the issue at scale.
Threat to businesses. Many businesses owned by paisanos cannot keep their doors open. Even if they are open, these businesses are experiencing steep declines in revenue in the range of 20-80%. Recently the U.S. economy launched two main stimulus packages summing in the range of $700 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses during these tough times. Unfortunately, many banks and other lenders are closing their doors to our paisanos, requesting social security as a requirement to complete the application. According to 2016 data from New American Economy, approximately 12% of undocumented immigrants own a business. This means undocumented immigrants own over 1 million small businesses in the U.S. To rephrase this stat, that is over 1 million businesses that will struggle to access stimulus funds, putting at risk hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of employees and billions in revenue. The economic vibrancy of the paisano community hinges on the health of their businesses that typically have up to 2-4 weeks of cash on hand. Time is running out …
The U.S. and Mexican markets have been bolstered in no small part by the silent contributions of undocumented immigrants. Helping our paisanos in this difficult moment should be considered more than ever as the right answer to the crisis. For years, undocumented immigrants have been instrumental for the success of many local communities. Now, more than ever, we need to empower them to help us raise the economy, while giving them the access to cost effective healthcare and ensuring safety in the workplace.
Our future success depends on them.
* Sean Salas is the CEO of Camino Financial and a Board Member of The US-Mexico Foundation. The US-Mexico Foundation is a binational non-profit organization dedicated to fostering bilateral cooperation and improving the understanding between the United States and Mexico by activating key people in the relationship that once were dormant. Twitter: @usmexicofound