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As an Iraq native, an immigrant and someone who spent years confined to home due to war, violence and displacement, I can safely say that the best way to fight, and survive, the COVID-19 pandemic is by working together — native born Americans and immigrants — to beat this virus.
For decades, the immigration conversation has falsely centered around the premise that immigrants steal jobs from, and threaten, American workers, a narrative that has been inflamed dramatically by the Trump administration. Just last month, President Trump signed an executive order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States. During a press conference, Trump claimed that he signed the executive order “to protect American workers” as the country struggles with a rising unemployment crisis. Except for certain employment visas, for the next 60 days, this order stops employment-based immigration, family reunification and the Diversity Visa Lottery program. Some reports have indicated that although the latest immigration ban is temporary, it is part of a long-term Trump administration strategy — building on the Muslim ban, detention raids and family separation policies — to reduce not only the number of foreign workers in the U.S., but immigration entirely.
This exclusionary rhetoric was never true. But it is especially harmful to the United States as the country works to fight against this deadly pandemic and rebuild its economy in the aftermath. We need to change the narrative surrounding immigration to one that is based in reality and promotes a vision of America that works for everyone.
The first thing we must do is erase the myth that immigrants “steal” jobs from Americans. They complement the American workforce and create economic opportunities for everyone. This is especially true during the COVID-19 crisis.
Here’s a look at five ways immigrants are protecting Americans and empowering our economy during this critical time:
Immigrants are on the front lines saving American lives.
Today, immigrants account for 16.5 percent of all healthcare workers in the United States, but they are especially likely to work in jobs that are on the front lines of the pandemic: foreign-born workers make up nearly 29 percent of all physicians, 22 percent of all nursing assistants, almost 20 percent of all surgeons and a quarter of all workers who care for elderly and disabled patients.
Immigrants are making sure we have food on our tables.
Risking their lives every day, immigrants make up a large portion of workers in essential businesses, such as grocery stores, food delivery and other essential occupations in the food industry. Nearly one in four butchers and meat processors in the country are foreign-born, while immigrants make up nearly 30 percent of all cooks and about 17 percent of all grocery store workers.
Immigrants are helping to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
Eight major pharmaceutical companies that are working to develop a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus have petitioned and received approvals to hire almost 3,500 foreign-born biochemists, biophysicists, chemists and other scientists. Immigrants comprise 22 percent of all scientific researchers in the United States, a group that is especially vital to developing a COVID-19 vaccine.
Immigrants are making sure we have the critical supplies we need.
As we all try to ensure that we have the medical and safety supplies we need to combat COVID-19, such as masks, gloves and disinfectants, immigrants are working side-by-side with American citizens to make that happen. While more than one in four workers in the food manufacturing, medicine, and cleaning supplies industries are immigrants, they make up half of all workers who pack and package supplies in those industries as well.
Immigrants create jobs and strengthen our economy.
Today, the United States has more than three million immigrant entrepreneurs nationwide. Immigrants, and their children, have founded half of all U.S. Fortune 500 companies. Immigrants help build businesses, create millions of jobs for native-born Americans and contribute billions of dollars in tax revenue. As our country faces a steep economic recovery, we need the skills and talents of both native- and foreign-born residents to help the economy thrive again when the most dangerous days of the pandemic have passed.
Instead of using this moment of crisis to fuel division, the Trump administration, Congress and state and local elected officials should do everything in their power to acknowledge and protect the contributions of immigrants in our communities.
There are a few ways to start this process: First, the administration must terminate this harmful immigration ban. Then, the Department of Homeland Security should extend all expiring employment visas indefinitely for foreign workers who have lost their jobs because of COVID-19. Congress must also include all immigrants who pay taxes in the economic stimulus package. Finally, colleges and universities must provide food, housing, and other essential supplies to international students, who are now stranded because their student visas prevent them from working, are not protected by any federal aid and cannot return to their countries of origin due to travel restrictions.
In order to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to work side-by-side to ensure that communities nationwide are safe, protected and have what they need to stay healthy.
To do that, it is high time we shift the immigration narrative in the United States and focus our time, energy and resources towards bridging the gap between American citizens and immigrants and building culturally inclusive communities nationwide.
Taif Jany is the Immigration Reform Policy Entrepreneur for Next100.