Study: Nearly 20 Million Immigrants Form ‘Essential Workforce' During COVID-19

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A new national study found nearly 20 million immigrants are part of the essential workforce that’s keeping the U.S. going, especially in states with the highest number of COVID-19 cases.

The Center for Migration Studies released a new report that found 19.8 million immigrants are working in jobs deemed essential, including frontline jobs, agricultural jobs, as well as food and beverage, grocery, and retail stores.

The report shows these employees are working in states with the highest number of coronavirus cases including:

  • 33% of health care sector workers in New York State
  • 32% in California
  • 31% in New Jersey
  • 23% in Massachusetts
  • 17% in Illinois
  • 9% in Pennsylvania

The study used 2018 Census data and found immigrants, both legal and undocumented, make up a larger percentage of the essential infrastructure workforce compared to native-born workers.

‘In the midst of the pandemic and in the places where they are most needed, immigrants are working to stop the spread of COVID-19 and to sustain their fellow Americans — often at great personal risk,’ said Donald Kerwin, CMS’s executive director in a press release. ‘These same workers are going to be essential to the United States’ economic recovery. They deserve our support and thanks.’

Those behind the study want to highlight both legal and undocumented immigrants’ contributions to the U.S. economy in hopes of pushing forward immigration reform.

 According to the study, half of the workers are naturalized U.S. citizens, the other half consists of legal and undocumented migrants.

In Texas, foreign-born migrants account for 24% of essential workers, according to the CMS.

The center also wanted to highlight how mixed-status families don’t qualify for economic stimulus payments, including Americans married to an undocumented migrants and filed joint tax returns.

“We hope to see recognition of the importance of immigrants are playing not only during the COVID pandemic but more generally how important immigrants are in our economy,” said researcher Michael Nicholson with the Center for Migration Studies.

Immigrant rights group United Fort Worth formed a GoFundMe account in March to help raise money for undocumented or mixed-status families left out of the stimulus program.

Jessica Ramirez wasn’t surprised by the national study’s findings.

“Just seeing how much they [undocumented immigrants] contribute to the economy I know they pay millions if not more in taxes so I do think they deserve some type of help especially right now with what’s going on,” said Ramirez of United Fort Worth.

So far, the GoFundMe has raised over $11,000.

Ramirez said the group has handed out $200-grants to 31 needy undocumented/mixed-status families in Tarrant County.

United Fort Worth plans to give another round of $200-grants to an additional 20 families who apply and are selected by the organization.

‘The report also states immigrants make up 31% of US agricultural employees, 26% of workers in food and beverage manufacturing and processing, 26% of grocery wholesalers, and 17% in retail grocery and other food and beverage stores,’ states the CMS.

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