Most days Magbis Nunez Love works her way through the Levine Cancer Institute supporting Latinx cancer patients. She gives them the advice she was grateful to have herself while battling stage two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma seven years ago.
“Right now we are talking about resiliency,” she says. “How you can be stronger in difficult times, how you can adapt to new circumstances.”
Resilience is a critical skill these days as the entire country is facing a difficult time. But any crisis — financial, public health, racial injustice, or otherwise — is bound to leave already vulnerable groups in more danger.
Coronavirus is doing just that. The pandemic is affecting the Latinx community at a much higher rate. Nationally, the CDC reports Latinos are four times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than non-Hispanic whites.
For months Mecklenburg County has reported a growing number of coronavirus cases among Latinos. The group makes up around 14 percent of the county’s population but, as of June 24, 38 percent of cases and 11 percent of Covid-related deaths were among the county’s Latinx community.
It’s troubling. How Charlotte takes care of its Hispanic community will determine what kind of city it becomes. That much was backed up with the U.S. Census Bureau statistics last week, which showed that Hispanic and Black populations in the city are growing at much faster rates than that of the white population. From 2010 to last year, the Hispanic population grew 36 percent, the Black population grew 24.5 percent, compared to 9.5 percent for whites.
As Covid cases in the Latinx community rise, Nunez Love’s work is changing. Now it includes some of what she did before the outbreak, plus advising her immunocompromised patients on how to stay safe during a pandemic, along with supporting other Latinx community members in getting tested and taking Covid precautions and it’s all happening online.
Many of the people Nunez Love advises are crippled by fear, and as a result, don’t seek out available Covid resources. Some of them are undocumented and constantly fear deportation; others are in the process of getting U.S. citizenship and worry about making a mistake that slows down or stops the process.
Some Latino Charlotteans who are citizens are still afraid, of racism, of discrimination, of deportation of a family member who is not yet a citizen.
And fear is incredibly powerful.
Living in fear: In April, tens of millions of Americans received stimulus checks to help support themselves during the financial crisis caused by the pandemic. But mixed-status households, homes comprised of some members with citizenship and others without, didn’t receive a check.
“In North Carolina we have a significant number of families that are mixed status,” said Daniel Valdez, Director of North Carolina and Mid-South Operations Hispanic Federation.
“A lot of the resources that are coming to support folks are coming with certain caveats about who’s eligible to (receive) those resources, when we know the virus doesn’t care about those things.”
According to a Pew Research survey, in 2016 there were 100,000 undocumented immigrants living in the Charlotte area.
While health providers such as Atrium say they’ll test those who need it regardless of their ability to pay and without sharing immigration status, immigrants are still afraid.
“You have a lot of people who just won’t access anything out of fear that they’re being tracked or that their chances of becoming a full-fledged citizen in this country will be impeded,” said Federico Rios, Assistant Director of the Office of Equity, Mobility, and Immigrant Integration.
New immigration policies: While undocumented immigrants don’t have access to government resources, most do contribute to them by paying taxes. In 2017 in Mecklenburg County, a New American Study showed undocumented immigrants paid $80 million in federal taxes and $51 million in state and local taxes.
Immigrants make up a critical part of the country’s workforce and a beloved aspect of American culture, while living largely in the shadows.
President Trump has closed borders and implemented new immigration policies during the pandemic that ban certain visas and categories of immigrants. The administration says this ban is in effort to support American workers as unemployment numbers skyrocket.
However, some members of the administration have said they want these restrictive immigration policies instituted permanently.
Rios says the federal policies and national conversation linger over every part of life for the Latinx community.
“You have a national zeitgeist that is telling community members in this population, specifically undocumented or individuals that are allowed to be in the country but are not yet naturalized citizens, that if they are to access anything offered through the federal government it will be held against them as a public charge for their citizenship process,” Rios said.
Systemic injustice: When data started to show how quickly Covid case numbers were rising in the Hispanic community, health leaders were quick to acknowledge the same things they did when the data showed rising numbers in the Black community. These groups have been historically marginalized and don’t have consistent access to healthcare.
We know the problem well. The solution, not so much.
A 2017 Mecklenburg County study shows 41 percent of Hispanic residents are uninsured. That means they’re five times more likely to be uninsured than whites.
But like any other virus, COVID-19 doesn’t attack people based on who has the best resources to fight it. If anything, it’s the opposite. Those groups who are least protected are most affected. Coronavirus isn’t interested in the bureaucratic processes in place to become a citizen, and get insured, and receive government support.
“There’s a lot of people that get forgotten because they’re not recognized as people in the first place,” Rios said.
[Related Agenda story: For Charlotte’s Black community, coronavirus points to a much larger, complex issue]
Essential work: Because of systemic injustices, the disproportionately high rate of Covid cases among Latinos is disturbing but not surprising.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that only about one in six Latino workers are able to work from home. They have to show up or go without a check, and for most people that’s not an option, even if they don’t feel well.
“You don’t have the luxury to say, ‘Okay, I don’t want to work for two weeks,’ or ‘I want to protect myself.’ You know, we have to work day by day,” Love said.
Back in May, county public health director Gibbie Harris reported outbreaks at construction sites, one of the workplaces that didn’t shut down during the pandemic.
According to the 2017 New American Economy study, 44 percent of Mecklenburg County construction workers are immigrants.
Undocumented Latinos are also more likely to face wage theft. That means that after risking their health and the health of their families to go to work, some employers will withhold wages knowing the likelihood of facing consequences is slim.
“Several weeks ago we had several folks reach out to us that had lost their job and had not been paid and were afraid to take any sort of action to get their wages back,” said Mary Jose Espinosa from Comunidad Colectiva during a virtual meeting with Congresswoman Alma Adams.
“Those folks got their money and I think that’s an example of a lot of the insecurity that folks are facing in this moment.”
Covid-related resources: Although the longstanding issues that leave both documented and undocumented Latinx communities more vulnerable can only be addressed through systemic changes, there are some initiatives that address coronavirus issues directly, some tackle those systemic issues too.
Nunez Love says she’s encouraging Latinx community members to take advantage of free testing and other resources by asking them to do it not for themselves, but for their families.
“Do it for your mom, do it for your grandma, for your sister, your kids, your own children. You don’t know how the virus can affect their bodies. Protect yourself so that you can protect the people that you love,” she said.
- The Hispanic Federation is a national program with a new North Carolina office. It connects Latinx community members with important resources and does advocacy work. This includes healthcare support.
- Comunidad Colectiva is a grassroots organization that advocates for immigrants in Charlotte. It’s raising money to provide cash assistance for immigrant families in need.
- Atrium Health is offering free testing and has Spanish-speaking healthcare providers to assist during screenings, testings, and other services.