Americans of Latino descent, including legal and undocumented immigrants, continue to ride a roller-coaster journey of problems unique to their everyday lives. The headaches seem endless, but center around two major issues: a relentless pandemic and what seems to be a federal resistance to immigration reform. In many cases, the adversities are intertwined. Let’s examine the facts.
COVID-19, to be candid, is not taking a summer vacation. Despite extreme heat which we were told could combat the virus, California, Arizona and Texas (along with south Florida) have seen stunning spikes in COVID over the last few weeks. California’s Imperial County has tested 23% positive for the virus and is on lock down. Bars have been closed down in Phoenix and Tucson. Ditto most large cities in Texas. In Houston, America’s most ethnic diverse city, the pandemic has mushroomed into chaos. What is the common thread? All these areas are heavily populated by Hispanics, and statistics show that Latinos are 2.5% more likely to be infected than whites.
Here’s some additional facts pertaining only to California. In San Diego, Hispanics account for 70% of all coronavirus cases. And in East Los Angeles, the number jumps to 95% in the area’s overall patients. Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigoza says there are numerous reasons for the spike.
“We have a large undocumented population (in SoCal), and folks have little access to protective items, or where to get it,” says Villaraigoza.
I don’t entirely “buy” that theory. It is true however, that many Latinos work in low paying service industry jobs and can’t afford health insurance. And in many cases, multiple families live in single resident housing, making each individual more vulnerable to infection. Another factor deals with crowded detention facilities packed with migrants, mostly families from Central America who await asylum hearings. These are folks who crossed the border prior to the Trump administration’s order that all migrants must wait in Mexico until their hearing date.
Many families in limbo here have been in custody for several months, and the facilities where they reside are breeding grounds for COVID. Just in the past week, numerous family members detained at a Karnes City center near San Antonio tested positive and are reportedly in isolation. The issue here is that according to the Flores agreement, minor children can’t be held for longer than 20 days. This came to a head last week when U.S District Court judge Dolly A. Gee slammed the gavel, ordering that all children in custody beyond that time must be released with their parents until court cases are heard. And if the parents have been deported or their whereabouts unknown, each child must be assigned to a relative living in the States or a suitable sponsor. The government has until July 17th to comply and obviously, all kids and their parents must be tested with negative results before being released.
“These facilities are on fire,” said Gee in reference to the living conditions in the ICE-run centers.
For individuals who want to be proactive during the latest surge in this pandemic, CVS Health Centers have opened up 107 locations in California to offer free COVID testing. And as of this post, another 200 CVS Pharmacy locations throughout the Southwest are also gearing up to provide the same services.
The DACA Dilemma
As most everyone is aware, the Supreme Court threw “Dreamers” a temporary lifeline by rejecting a DHS request to abolish the DACA bill, meaning that immigrant children brought here illegally by their parents can remain in the country that they have ever known…At least for now. In a narrow 5-4 vote, Chief Justice John Roberts upheld a previous ruling by lower courts, but said another petition could be entertained at a later date. In my mind, that would be politically foolish because the DACA program has produced many success stories, and it enjoys bipartisan support from both Democrats and Republicans. This is not just among political leaders. The general public overwhelmingly support the Dreamers cause, and many call for a quick path to citizenship.
For many conservative Latinos who have lived here for at least two generations, the Central American caravans arriving here seemingly without warming is a controversial subject. It’s easy to lump gangs like Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as the bulk of immigrants who crash the border, but this is largely false. MS-13 surfaced as a powerful organized crime outfit in the early 2000’s . Operating mostly in Los Angeles, they engaged in drug and weapons trafficking, armed robbery, auto theft and contract killings, working closely with Mexican mafia groups. But in September of 2005, an FBI raid arrested hundreds of gang members, ultimately deporting them to El Salvador. While some remaining members who escaped set up shop on the east coast, the bulk became a force in Central America as a go-between for Colombia cocaine kingpins and Mexican drug cartels who moved products for distribution in the U.S.
It didn’t take long for offshoots of MS-13 to establish roots in neighbor countries like Honduras and Guatemala and its large urban centers. Through violence, extortion, kidnapping and rape, these punk gangs took over the streets. Fearing for their lives, entire families fled for refuge and a hopeful future in the U.S. Most did the right thing and applied for asylum at major ports of entry. Many even had relatives already living here in the states. But in another recent Supreme Court ruling, justices voted 7-2 that individuals who failed their asylum hearings can be deported immediately, even though many lacked legal assistance and were ignorant of the hearing process. I have been to Central America on numerous occasions, and my daughter was married on the beach in Costa Rica. But I would never even contemplate returning to visit Guatemala or Honduras. It is simply too dangerous.
There is much work left to be done concerning immigration reform in this country, and there is an upcoming election in November. I feel like the Trump administration was overwhelmed by the caravan and pushed the panic button. But they must do something dramatic to earn the respect of Latino voters. On the Democratic side, the Obama folks did very little for Hispanics except make empty promises during re-election time. The former president was in fact, dubbed “deporter in chief” by his critics, due to the number of immigrants he sent packing.
While it is clear that some Latinos are doing well and have achieved the American dream, there are many more struggling in a shrinking middle class who want to see less talk and more results. With a pandemic showing no signs of mercy, rising racial tensions and a thriving economy weakened by COVID, our leaders on both sides of the spectrum need to quit bickering and do a better job.