Undocumented essential workers protest workplace exploitation, demand safe working conditions during pandemic

Friday, May 1, 2020 - 7:33pm

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Courtesy of Julianna Morano.

On Friday, a caravan of approximately 100 cars drove across Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti to disrupt traffic and protest the exploitation of undocumented immigrants in essential businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Movimiento Cosecha, a nonviolent national movement advocating for the respect and protection of undocumented immigrants’ rights, organized the protest as part of a nationwide movement of demonstrations in Michigan, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Indiana and Georgia.

Movimiento Cosecha published a national press release arguing for the federal government to take greater action to protect undocumented essential workers and immigrants who have put their lives in danger to work in essential businesses. The statement says undocumented immigrants received $0 in aid from the federal government and layoffs have left many immigrants with no access to unemployment benefits.

Sergio Hurtado, organizer for Movimiento Cosecha in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, said the protests were meant to raise awareness about the work immigrants do for businesses in times of strife while continuing to be disregarded in federal assistance. 

“In light of the crisis that we’re in with the whole coronavirus situation, we really wanted to highlight the contributions and the value of immigrant workers in this country who sustain the economy of the United States even in times of crisis like this, and are yet systematically excluded in all forms of benefit from this government,” Hurtado said.

LSA Sophomore Nicole Lin is the public relations chair on the board of the Student Community of Progressive Empowerment, a student organization that supports undocumented and DACA students at the University. Lin said health treatment was another issue that had worsened for undocumented populations with the outbreak of COVID-19 because Medicare and Medicaid is reserved for U.S. citizens and testing for the virus is more available to U.S. citizens. 

“It’s harder for the undocumented population to have healthcare, so it’s pretty unaffordable in a way, and they don’t have as much access as U.S. citizens would,” Lin said.

Ypsilanti resident Brenda Castro has been organizing with Movimiento Cosecha for about a year. Castro explained the organization originally planned to march in Lansing for an ongoing campaign to demand undocumented immigrants be allowed to receive driver’s licenses, but the outbreak of COVID-19 forced them to consider how to address the new challenges for the immigrant community within the pandemic. 

“We wanted to be visible and the only way to make ourselves visible was to bring a caravan,” Castro said.

The drivers began at Pioneer High School around noon and followed a route through Ann Arbor that ended in Ypsilanti. Along the trip, the vehicles drove in a single-file line while honking and playing loud music to draw attention to the caravan. Several cars had signs with messages of support for undocumented immigrants, including “workers are essential, not disposable” and “permanent protection now.”

Hurtado said the demonstration aimed to highlight the concerns of immigrants during the pandemic.

“In a way, it was kind of disruptive (to) traffic because there were so many cars,” Hurtado said, “But we really wanted to raise awareness around the issue of immigration and the crisis that the immigrant community is facing within these moments of the coronavirus.”

Castro said the group was afraid the police would stop them because some were undocumented, so they took precautions to ensure the group’s safety.

“We told them it was peaceful, that they didn’t have to leave their vehicles (and) we respected all traffic signals, (including) the stop signs and traffic lights,” Castro said. “We’re not here to be destructive or disorderly, but rather to work and build things and contribute to this country.”

Note: Castro’s interview was conducted in Spanish and The Daily translated her quotes to English.

Daily Staff Reporter Arjun Thakkar can be reached at arjunt@umich.edu.