Maria [not her real name], a 76-year-old undocumented immigrant, was injured while working as a farm laborer several years ago. When she could no longer work, she survived by allowing other farm laborers to share her small apartment. That’s how she’s managed to pay her rent and bills and buy food.
Maria might have been able to continue in that way until the food chain began to break given the COVID-19 shutdowns. Her roommates had to leave to find work somewhere. With many restaurants closed, farmers are no longer able to sell their produce to a significant market. The chain breaks. Restaurants close, farmers can’t sell, farmworkers can’t work, people like Maria struggle. There are supposed to be supports for all these portions of the food chain, from Payroll Protection Programs to Stimulus Relief. However, none of them reach Maria.
There are elder immigrants in our community who have sacrificed for years to help pick the fruits and vegetables that feed us and who are left with no sources of support when they are injured or too old to continue to work. Women like Maria should be able to live their lives with dignity and not worry about where their next meal is coming from.
COVID-19 has taught us how closely we are all connected — how we depend on each other, our health, our economy, our survival. These are ties that were always there, we just didn’t recognize them or maybe we didn’t want to. We certainly see them in vivid detail now and I hope we never forget.
Telling Maria’s story is my way of preserving this new consciousness. It’s also my way of prompting action now and in the future. Public policies and narratives tied to those polices have made Maria vulnerable. We need a just and fair immigration system that allows people to live with dignity, with retirement, with access to health care and support in times of crisis. The truth is that no human being is illegal — we are all valuable and worthy of investment.