The Migration Policy Institute estimates that 6 million immigrant workers (a figure that does not take into account legal status) are in jobs on the front lines of coronavirus response, while another 6 million are in industries hardest hit by the pandemic. In normal times, undocumented labor is a pillar of the U.S. economy. In these extraordinary times, immigrant advocates say lawmakers must recognize the contributions that essential undocumented workers are making.

By Lissandra Villa

On normal mornings, Maria, an undocumented worker at an orchard in Washington state, gets up at 5:00 a.m. The 37-year-old immigrant from Mexico puts her hair up in a bun, wraps it with a handkerchief to keep it out of the way, and packs a snack for her morning break and a small meal for her half-hour lunch.

Then she sets off on the half-hour drive to the orchard, arriving so early there’s often frost on the trees. Her work depends on the season; right now it’s the grueling task of securing branches to ensure they grow correctly.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Maria is classified as an essential worker, which means she has to keep going in even as large sectors of the economy have shut down. She has a letter from her employer to prove it.

Though she says her hours have been cut in half because of COVID-19, she’s still expected to show up. It was only last week, Maria says, that her employer finally gave a presentation about maintaining six feet of distance while on the job—which she says is impossible to do—and requesting that workers wear a face cover and gloves, which are not supplied.

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