Originally published Aug. 10 in TheStatehouseFile.com
Immigrants to Marion County are providing essentials services to the community as COVID-19 continue to spread and as a result, they face greater risks from the disease, a study by the Immigrant Welcome Center and the New American Economy found.
The study, based on 2018 data, found that immigrants are 9.2% of the population, but they make up nearly 14.9% of food service, 13.5% of transportation and warehousing, and 7.5% of health care workers—all jobs that have been essential throughout the pandemic.
“It not only highlights why immigrants are essential to our recovery of COVID as a state, as a city,” said Jackie Rodriguez, marketing and communications manager for the Immigrant Welcome Center, “but they are also the most vulnerable populations in terms of contracting the virus, spreading the virus, and dealing with some of the secondary effects of COVID.”
The Immigrant Welcome Center, headquartered on the south side of Indianapolis, joined with the New American Economy to show the impact of foreign-born workers on the local economy. NAE, a bipartisan organization that advocates for policies to help immigrants, is among a dozen cities selected to participate in the survey, which addressed the vulnerabilities the immigrant community is facing as well as how they are essential to the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
She noted that immigrants are also job creators as they make up more than 35% of business owners in construction and 15.2% of the owners of general services businesses such as laundry and barber and repair shops.
Rodriguez said that about 50% of their clients are undocumented, meaning they cannot receive any of the local or federal COVID-19 aid and often do not have access to workplace benefits or medical insurance. Many of these immigrants, though, are still working essential jobs and are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to their families.
The NAE survey found that 34% of the people in Marion County without health insurance are immigrants.
“They don’t have the luxury of saying ‘well I’m not going to work because I don’t want to contract the virus.’ They have to ask themselves do I risk my life every day or feed my family?” Rodriguez said. “It’s a matter of survival.”
Rodriguez said that the staff at the Immigrant Welcome Center is dealing with clients who are facing a language barrier that makes it difficult for them to receive accurate COVID-19 safety information. More than 30% of immigrants in Marion county had limited English language proficiency, the New American Economy study showed.
For 10 weeks during the pandemic, the Immigrant Welcome Center hired seven of the Natural Helpers to assist nearly 2,000 immigrants to resources to help them through the pandemic. That program has now ended but the center continues to offer help to immigrants.
Taylor Dixon is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students