Once again, Hispanics are paying the heftiest price: 21 percent said they had received some sort of unemployment benefits, almost 10 percent less than whites and 5 percent less than African Americans. Only 47 percent of Hispanics in the poll said they had benefited from the government’s massive federal stimulus. Among whites, the number is 67 percent.
The plight of undocumented people in the United States during the pandemic has been particularly incongruous and cruel. While the government has declared many within the undocumented community as essential — among them at least 1 million farmworkers — it has not only refused to help them directly in any significant way, but also persisted in their relentless persecution. Many of those deported carry the virus with them, back to countries that aren’t remotely ready to deal with an outbreak. In the meantime, Stephen Miller, President Trump’s de facto nativist czar, has continued to restrict immigration, making it harder to obtain legal residency in the country.
In such a hostile environment, it would be hard to fault the immigrant community if it simply chose to leave, turning its back on a country that, as journalist (and former farmworker) Alfredo Corchado recently put it, “wants to be fed” but also “wants to demonize the undocumented immigrants who make that happen.” Perhaps, given the evident injustice laid bare by the pandemic, immigrants could decide to quit on the United States and its ungratefulness.
In fact, quite the opposite seems to be happening.
In March, with the coronavirus pandemic in its early but already quite worrying stages, Mexicans in the United States defied the odds and sent home more than $4 billion in remittances, the largest amount since 2003. “This growth in remittances is hard to reconcile with the labor market in the United States,” Alberto Ramos, a Goldman Sachs executive, told Mexican newspaper El Financiero. Indeed, most analysts had forecast that remittances would fall to $2.7 billion. Perhaps, Ramos said, Mexican workers in the United States anticipated a steeper recession and decided to capitalize now rather than later. That is indeed possible, even likely. But there’s another, far more relevant lesson: Undocumented immigrants are not going anywhere.
I host a daily news magazine on the radio in Los Angeles. Over the last few days, I have asked the audience whether they have considered leaving the United States and returning to their countries of origin to escape the pandemic and its risks. Not one person has said they are planning to leave. On May 4, Jorge, a caller from Santa Ana, told us he had faced tremendous hardship to come to America and had no plans to go back. His only son had been born in the United States and it was here that he had built a life over decades of hard work. “I am not going back,“ Jorge told me.
Marcela Celorio, consul general of Mexico in Los Angeles, said that rather than asking for assistance for a potential return, the county’s Mexican community is doubling down on its deep attachments to the United States. Of the roughly 7,500 calls the consulate has received on its dedicated line for help through the pandemic, Celorio told me, “very few” have asked for support with returning to Mexico. “The most direct data we have about people who decide to return to Mexico is obtained from requests for household goods certificates, which are the documents we issue to those families who wish to repatriate with all their belongings,” Celorio told me. Most of those requests come from people who seem to be well-off, with sizable amounts of goods to take back. But most of the community is staying put. “We haven’t identified any significant number of cases of people who are seeking repatriation,” Celorio said.
For Celorio, the Mexican community’s allegiance to its adoptive country is nothing new. She was in charge of the Mexican consulate in San Diego in 2016, when Donald Trump became president. Many expected a massive exodus from the United States. It didn’t happen. “We saw a spike in the requests of personal documentation needed for repatriation, but not of the magnitude we had foreseen,” she said. Despite the administration’s ruthless harassment, the community’s roots only burrowed deeper.
In the last few moments of last Monday’s radio show, we got a call from Antonio. A first-time caller, Antonio had picked up the phone to share his story. He had once thought of returning to Mexico but quickly changed his mind when he saw his children grow up in America. “My children have gotten an education, and I am very grateful to life and the United States,” Antonio said. “Everything I have is here. One should never look at what one has already wrought. The plow should always keep moving forward.”
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