Five Ways the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Outbreak is Impacting Undocumented Immigrants

MacArthur Foundation
4 min readApr 23, 2020


As COVID-19 (commonly known as coronavirus) continues to spread all over the United States and the rest of the world, we have shared how some of our grantees have responded to the outbreak and how MacArthur Fellows have balanced competing demands as their lives have shifted. We also put together pieces from MacArthur Fellows on the virus and its origins, and how to help stop the spread.

But over time it has become evident that the outbreak is acutely affecting immigrant communities and families. Fear of deportation and a lack of protections, regardless of immigration status, have created an added layer of anxiety and risk during this pandemic.

We reached out to Cristina Jiménez Moreta, a 2017 MacArthur Fellow who is an organizer and immigration reform advocate, to learn more about the challenges that undocumented immigrants are facing during this outbreak. She has been instrumental in building a youth-led immigrant movement as co-founder and executive director of United We Dream, a nationwide network of affiliated groups, organizations, and individuals focused on addressing the needs of immigrant youth and families. Her work has helped shift public perceptions of undocumented youth and focused attention on policy issues that affect them.

Here she shares current challenges facing millions at this time, and her opinion on how to address these issues. You can learn more about her organization’s work at United We Dream:

The Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19

As the data on the outbreak have started to trickle in, it is clear that the virus is disproportionately impacting Black and brown communities, including cities with large numbers of immigrant, poor and working class people. More Black and brown people are dying because they cannot afford to lose wages and many are considered “essential workers.” They are caring for children, the elderly, and the sick; feeding the country by harvesting, packing, transporting, shelving, delivering and cooking the food we eat; cleaning essential institutions like hospitals and grocery stores; and much more.

Data show that only 16.2% of Latinx communities, and 19.7% of Black people can work from home. Another variable is that many in these communities are uninsured, leaving them even more in danger of suffering from the effects of COVID-19 if they get infected.

Continued Detentions and Deportations

Thousands of immigrants currently detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are at risk of getting coronavirus, and the agency is continuing to make arrests and deportations during this pandemic. News outlets have reported that immigrants inside detention centers have become sick with COVID-19, and because of the conditions inside, there is no way to properly quarantine and keep the virus from spreading.

We recommend releasing all detained individuals on their own recognizance, minimizing the use of bond, and prioritizing the release of high-risk populations including but not limited to individuals who are pregnant, elderly, or living with chronic illness or disabilities.

Closures Will Delay Critical Protections

Due to social distancing and stay at home orders, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has closed their offices across the country until at least May 2020. That means that in-person appointments such as biometrics, interviews, and naturalization ceremonies are postponed. While USCIS has announced they will use previous biometric information to continue processing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients who had biometrics appointments canceled, there may still be delays for people who have submitted paperwork but do not have appointments scheduled yet.

Young undocumented immigrants may see their deportation protections and work permits lapse in the middle of this pandemic.

The COVID-19 Stimulus Package

Undocumented people were left out of the third COVID-19 stimulus package and won’t receive healthcare coverage and financial support. The bill did not recognize the humanity of all people, including undocumented immigrants, and does not provide adequate health care access and financial support during this time of need.

In order to properly combat COVID-19 and its impact, we need the next stimulus package to adequately address the care and well-being of everyone living in the United States.

Lack of Protections for All People

Many immigrants have gotten laid off and are worried about how they’ll put food on the table. Others are on the front lines of the response, putting their lives at risk for the well-being of the entire country: healthcare workers, farmers, janitors, grocery store workers, and many more.

The coronavirus outbreak has made it clear now more than ever that our health and well-being is connected to the health and well-being of our neighbors. This moment of crisis and pain calls for all of us to come together and protect all people, regardless of immigration status, to defeat and survive this pandemic.

Learn more about how the MacArthur Foundation is responding to the COVID-19 outbreak and supporting nonprofits during the pandemic. We have also shared guidance that we have provided with regard to COVID-19 to protect the well-being of our staff, visitors to the Foundation, and people participating in MacArthur convenings. You can also review updates on the CDC website for more general information regarding the situation.



MacArthur Foundation

We support creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. ⚖🌿☮🌎