Undocumented ‘dreamers’ say they are needed as front-line fighters against coronavirus

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Ciriac Alvarez leads a chant during a rally in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in West Valley City on Aug. 30, 2019. She joined a national press call Friday said 'dreamers' are needed as front-lines fighters against coronavirus.

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Utahn Ciriac Alvarez was brought from Mexico at age 5 by her parents without papers. She was among “dreamers” who warned Friday that Trump administration efforts to deport them and others could deprive the nation of many of its front-lines fighters against the coronavirus.

“People will start losing their workers permits later this year” — affecting dreamers who are doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technicians, farm workers, grocery workers and others, Alvarez said in a call for national reporters set up by America’s Voice, an immigration reform group.

Alvarez and others said dreamers are at risk for two reasons. Immigration offices have been closed and have not allowed dreamers to file papers needed to keep work permits current. And the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a Trump request to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and seemed to side with the administration in oral arguments.

An unusual filing with the Supreme Court on Friday by Yale Law School — like the national press call — urged the court to take a new look at the case because of the coronavirus outbreak. “Termination of DACA during this national emergency would be catastrophic,” it said.

Alvarez, a policy analyst for Voices for Utah’s Children, added, “DACA recipients are facing so much uncertainty right now with the [virus] crisis and with the decision of the Supreme Court ruling looming over us” — including that many fear taking advantage of food or other aid because it may hurt their immigration status by considering them a “public charge.”

Denisse Rojas, co-founder of Pre-Health Dreamers, a group for DACA students studying to work in the health industry, said the Center for American Progress estimates the county has 27,000 undocumented health care workers who are working with permission through DACA.

“These individuals are on the frontlines of providing care to people,” she said. “It’s so disheartening that their ability to work and my own ability to practice as a physician is in jeopardy and will be ripped away if the Supreme Court decides to end the DACA program.”

Besides the health industry workers, Ur Jaddou, director of DHS Watch, said many more DACA recipients work in other jobs needed during the pandemic from farm workers to truckers, meat processors and grocery store workers.

“They also need immigration protection so they can go on working for all of us without the fear of falling out of status, threat of deportation or financial ruin,” she said.

Some groups on the national call for reporters also criticized rhetoric by President Donald Trump — including referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese flu” — saying that is making life unfairly difficult for many Asian immigrants.

“Chinese Americans and Asian Americans are being blamed for the virus or presumed to be carriers. We know that this sort of stereotyping and scapegoating it wrong,” said Marita Etcubañez, director of strategic initiatives for Asian Americans Advancing Justice. “It’s also dangerous.”

She said Asian immigrants have been assaulted, attacked, spit on and verbally abused.

So her group proclaimed that calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus, particularly as we hear it coming from our elected officials including the president … is racist and it’s fueling hate against our communities.”