Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) discussed a nationwide coordinated effort with other immigrant rights leaders in order to highlight COVID-19’s impact on immigrants.
In response to the rising number of infected workers across the country, adult children born in the U.S. have collaborated on behalf of their parents, many of whom are undocumented and fear retribution from the government or their employers.
Guadalupe Paez and his daughter spoke during a Tuesday teleconference about the conditions they endured in a Wisconsin meatpacking plant, which led to Paez becoming infected and in critical condition. He eventually recovered and now speaks on behalf of his co-workers.
“Above work is your life,” said Paez, addressing factory employees.
Immigrants currently make up a large portion of meat-packing workers and have reported being unable to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19 due to lack of safety equipment, no paid sick leave, lack of financial safety nets, and fear of retribution. Many accuse their employers of exposing them to COVID-19 by providing little to no info on sick individuals still working at the factory. All these factors have created hotspots among the immigrant community, according to heat maps published by the Metro Public Health Department.
TIRRC hopes that coordinating with the Metro (Nashville) Public Health Department will help slow the spread of the virus while also putting public pressure to focus on immigrant rights. The Tyson plant in Shelbyville closed temporarily due to an outbreak of COVID-19 while 298 people have tested positive at a Tyson plant in Goodlettsville.
TIRRC Co-executive director Stephanie Teatro says the crisis in the immigrant community highlights ongoing systemic and historic racism in the U.S, calling meatpacking one of the most dangerous jobs in America due to safety and health violations that have remained unaddressed for many years.
Teatro referenced Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids among factory workers in 2018 that first exposed the hazardous conditions. Many workers were afraid to speak up due to fears of deportation, she said
Teatro and her colleagues hope the government will respond to health violations since immigrants working in meatpacking factories are now considered essential workers.
“Now more than ever it is abundantly clear that our health and wellbeing are interdependent with our neighbors and our coworkers,” said Teatro.
“We must ensure that all workers no matter where they’re from or how they got here, are protected at work.”
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