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Florida’s immigrants need access to coronavirus care

As the coronavirus pandemic ravages our communities, it is impacting us all: Endangering us and our loved ones, threatening our economy, and unsettling our daily lives. Despite this looming threat, everyone in Florida is showing up shoulder to shoulder, including immigrants, to help our country fight this pandemic in their frontline roles as health care professionals, manufacturers, farm workers, grocery store employees, restaurant and delivery workers, and more. It will take all of us to help the nation mend in its post-COVID recovery. We are all essential contributors in this effort now and will continue to be in the months and years to come.

Manny Diaz former mayor of Miami. [ PATRICK FARRELL | MIAMI HERALD ]

I say “we” because I am a proud immigrant and a proud American, and we are all struggling through this crisis together. I know how wonderful our country can be, but I fear for the lives of my brothers, sisters, children, and neighbors as well as the impact on our cities, states and country. Immigration status shouldn’t be a death sentence, but if Congress doesn’t act soon, it will continue to be.

As our state confronts a COVID-spike with over 500,000 confirmed cases and over 7,700 deaths, 2 million of Florida’s “essential” workers are immigrants, including 313,900 health care workers; 86,900 janitors; and 35,346 agriculture workers. Reprehensibly, many of these essential workers don’t have access to COVID-19 care. It is commonly known that testing and treatment helps to slow the spread of this virus, which is why testing and treatment should be made available to everyone. Yet, our political leadership has not fought for everyone’s inclusion while Floridians suffer.

Each bill that Congress has enacted has left tens of millions of people without access to COVID-related testing and treatment — many of them are essential workers, including some green card holders, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, domestic violence survivors, and undocumented immigrants. Months ago, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would remedy this issue. The Senate is finally negotiating its next package. We are months into the pandemic with little relief in sight.

It is critical that Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio and their colleagues ensure testing and treatment for everyone, regardless of immigration status.

Nearly 70 percent of Americans believe that the federal government has an obligation to provide medical care to undocumented immigrants with COVID-19, according to the Pew Research Center, and 77 percent of Floridians agree that the federal government should ensure everyone has access to COVID-19 testing and treatment. Re-opening the state without addressing the lack of universal access to COVID-19 testing and treatment is bad business and will continue to devastate Florida’s economy. The country, especially Florida, is running out of time. We all need COVID-related care if we are to slow the spread of this deadly virus.

As a result of this failure, people are left seeking care wherever they can find it. In some places, residents will seek out a local community health center, but they do not all have COVID-19 testing and might already be facing shortages. In others, people hope that their state will provide testing and treatment to those not covered by Congress’ relief packages. But these options are limited and create confusion because people do not know if they are eligible for care or where to go to receive it. It is not enough for the country, and it is not enough for me or my fellow Floridians. We all need access to testing and treatment, and, until we have it, we will all continue to be at risk as this virus destroys our communities.

The fix is simple, if Congress chooses to act. As members of Congress negotiate the next COVID-relief package, they must include a line that ensures COVID-related services are available under emergency Medicaid, so that immigrant eligibility requirements do not apply. Until we have that clarity, there will continue to be barriers, confusion, and lack of care — and we will continue to be behind on slowing the spread of this virus and protecting Floridians and people all over the country.

I, too, yearn for the day our vibrant state can safely reopen, and for the day I can watch my son coach the University of Miami Hurricanes football team in front of a sold out Hard Rock Stadium. But I also know that each day Congress fails to ensure universal access to testing and treatment, those glory days get further and further away. For our collective health, members of Congress must ensure everyone in the United States can access care — our lives are on the line. Senators Scott and Rubio, do your job: Protect our lives.

Manny Diaz is the former Mayor of Miami.


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