COVID-19 Worsens Pre-existing Struggles for Undocumented Workers

Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type




First Advisor

Rebecca Overmyer-Velazquez


Prior research depicts undocumented workers as the highest population to be uninsured and lacks proper health care, along with being the most vulnerable to be working in hazardous and low-paying jobs. Lack of legal status has left many to retreat from basic human rights out of fear of repercussions from current negative immigration policies and reforms built upon xenophobia. This is viewed as increasing enforcement and incarceration, and disciplinary policies, like the separation of families at the border (GCIR 2020). COVID-19 has negatively affected undocumented workers, but the question remains, how has COVID-19 influenced pre-existing barriers to ideal living/working standards for undocumented workers? For example, non-citizens have previously struggled to access healthcare services out of fear of federal repercussions in general, but with the current pandemic has it placed further limitations on healthcare assistance? Working with a non-profit organization that has been working on immigration for over 36 years in Southern California, I sent out 30 surveys to undocumented members within the organization and received 24 responses. Grassroots organizations that understand and advocate for the communities around them are vital because they are strong sources to supporting community growth wherein communities who do not have these resources/organizations often struggle. Undocumented workers play a vital role in our society, but because of their undocumented status, many undocumented workers are left to bear the struggle of not having basic human rights. The impacts of COVID-19 on undocumented workers can be divided into four areas: access to health care, working conditions, immigration policies, and immigrant contributions such as taxation and product generation. I found that in the U.S. there is a lack of resources and policies in all four categories which affect undocumented workers. The responses show undocumented workers reported an increase in barriers faced in their daily lives because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based off on my survey study, the statistics depict that 58.3% of undocumented workers do not have health insurance, 70.8% do not participate in public programs due to fear of public charge, and 66.7% have an ITIN and pay taxes while not receiving federal aid. These numbers not only aid my research question of how these disparities are continuous, but rise in times of crisis like COVID-19, they are representations to pre-COVID-19 times. To help this population, our immigration policies must be improved to create justice in immigration reform; funds must be allocated for non-citizens especially in pandemic times.

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