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Justice for immigrant workers: Now and after the pandemic!

by Riley Bove and Noah Leininger

The COVID-19 pandemic rages on throughout the United States. Millions of people have filed for unemployment and workers are going on strike because of the dismissive attitude of corporations in response to the pandemic when it comes to hazard pay, healthcare benefits, and safety.

Despite the critical need to protect people during the COVID-19 pandemic, immigrant workers are still being targeted by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). They are being fired from their jobs and are unable to access unemployment benefits or medical insurance. Immigrant people are ineligible for federal aid like the $1,200 stimulus check, making their economic situation precarious in an exceptionally dangerous period. However, local immigrant advocacy organizations are combating racist policies and ensuring undocumented families are being taken care of and ANSWER Indiana stands in solidarity with them.

The oppression of immigrant and undocumented workers existed well before the COVID-19 outbreak occurred, but have since been exacerbated. On April 22, President Trump signed an executive order banning some legal forms of immigration into the United States in response to the pandemic. Thousands of undocumented people are still being held in ICE detention centers,  deportation arrests are still occuring, and workers detained in ICE facilities are being infected with and dying from COVID-19—just like the people in prisons all across the country.

According to the National Immigration Forum, Indiana is home to 350,000 immigrant people, 92,000 of which are undocumented. Nearly 60% of undocumented people have lived in the U.S. for 10 or more years. There are 10,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and 2,600 Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders. As of 2017, immigrant people contributed $7.2 billion to Indiana’s economy, with undocumented workers paying $92 million in state and local taxes. The most recent data in 2016 shows 58,000 were employed in a variety of industries. Despite contributing to Indiana’s economy and workforce, state leaders continue to allow ICE raids and deportations while offering minimal to no protection. 

On May 1, International Workers Day, demonstrators in Indiana gathered in Elkhart, Indianapolis, and Brazil to protest the exploitation and oppression of immigrant workers in Indiana. These gatherings were part of a nationwide series of protests organized by Movimiento Cosecha and joined locally by the Indiana Undocumented Youth Alliance, ANSWER Indiana, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and others to call for access to drivers’ licenses for undocumented workers, protection from ICE detention and deportations, and access to federal stimulus package benefits.

In Elkhart, demonstrators participated in a car caravan that targeted an industrial park that employs many undocumented workers. In Indianapolis, demonstrators rallied at the Indiana Statehouse before taking several laps around the statehouse and government center. After this, several organizers traveled an hour west of Indianapolis to Brazil in Clay County, home to Indiana’s only ICE detention facility, to protest in a second caravan circling that center

These protests show that working people are uniting to fight back against the ruling class’s “tried and true” process of bailing out large corporations and the wealthy class while leaving nothing to working people. Workers are uniting to fight the continuation of ICE raids and police arrests that crowd people in unsafe jails and prisons. Workers across the state are banding together to fight arm-in-arm for a better world, one in which people’s needs are prioritized over corporate profits.