The coronavirus has affected all sectors of our society. It is all too predictable, however, that the virus is disproportionately affecting people of color, the poor, the homeless, and other more-vulnerable and disenfranchised populations. People whose jobs do not allow them to work from home, who lack access to preventive healthcare — and thus have underlying health conditions — and whose jobs and living situations force them into close proximity with others all are more vulnerable.
That ‘s why Congress should ensure that, in subsequent rounds of COVID-19 legislation, extra support is directed to these affected populations.
Undocumented immigrants, too, are incredibly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19. They are our neighbors, our fellow church members, our friends, our family and our students. Each one is made in the image of God. Unfortunately the laws affecting them too often do not respect their dignity. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, in which the stakes for life and death could not be higher, it is essential that we get it right.
Some undocumented immigrants fear for their lives if they go to the hospital to be treated for COVID-19. Some have been deported, even though they have the coronavirus and need medical attention. This puts not only their lives in danger, but also the lives of those in the country to which they are being deported. These countries likely have fewer resources to address the pandemic. Additionally, some fear that seeking medical care through public services in the United States, even a COVID-19 test, could compromise their immigration application through the administration’s new public-charge rule.
Others are being held in detainment camps near the border filled three and four times beyond their capacity. These conditions already are inhumane but rapidly turn deadly once the coronavirus arrives.
Finally, DACA recipients are again living in daily fear as President Trump indicates that he will try again to end the program, only this time doing it using proper procedures so the Supreme Court will finally acquiesce to his desire to rescind the program. For recipients, that would mean the loss of their jobs, healthcare, access the social safety net and the ability to provide for their families. And it would put them at immediate risk of being deported.
These all are situations Congress can, and should, address.
Undocumented immigrants are vital to ensuring that our society functions and flourishes. They work in crucial jobs that often are difficult to fill, including cleaning our hospitals and other public spaces, working in slaughterhouses and doing the backbreaking work of picking fruits and vegetables in the fields. And they are healthcare workers risking their lives to save ours.
They are part of our communities, they parent children who are U.S. citizens and they worship with us in church. These are reasons we should offer them protections. However, we should do it, first and foremost, because it is the right thing to do.
Micah 6:8 says, “The Lord God has told us what is right and what he demands: ‘See that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern and humbly obey your God.”’
God’s love for the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable is all throughout scripture. And it is not directed just at Christians in their personal lives. It is for all of us – society is called to care for the poor and the vulnerable. God’s directives are not merely for the individuals in the society, they are for our government officials as well.
We must call upon our senators to help us protect the marginalized and vulnerable. It is imperative that the next round of legislation to address the coronavirus includes protections to ensure that the undocumented among us are treated justly and with mercy. I ask our Florida Senators, will you join us in protecting the rights of the vulnerable?
I pray all who read this join me in calling our senators to do so.
Kent Ingle, is president of Southeastern University, a Christ-centered institution located in Lakeland, Florida. He is a founding member of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration.