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Protecting Undocumented Workers on the Pandemic’s Front Lines

A Look at Certain Sectors

Farm laborers working with H-2A visas harvest romaine lettuce in Greenfield, California, on a machine with heavy plastic dividers that separate workers from each other, April 2020.

Five million undocumented immigrants—nearly 3 in 4 of those working—are on the front lines of the United States’ response to the coronavirus pandemic, keeping all Americans safe, healthy, and supported. They are working in hospitals and doctors’ offices, at every stage of the food supply chain, physically maintaining and expanding the country’s infrastructure, caring for our loved ones, and more. In short, undocumented workers touch nearly every sector of the economy and society.

What’s often lost in these discussions is a more detailed understanding of the varying types of work that go into each of these sectors. This set of fact sheets takes a finer-grain approach to four of the sectors that are included among the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency memo of works deemed essential to supporting the critical infrastructure of the country: construction, the food supply chain, the care economy, and health care. Each fact sheet looks at the largest occupations or industries that make up each sector, providing a deeper understanding of the many different roles undocumented immigrants play in America.

These workers and sectors are vitally important to both the U.S. response to the pandemic and its recovery from the resulting economic devastation, and they cannot be jeopardized. The Biden administration and the new Congress must pass protections for these critical workers, including by putting them and their families on a pathway to citizenship.

The fact sheets—along with tables including detailed state-level data on these workers and their fiscal and economic contributions—are accessible below:

Nicole Prchal Svajlenka is the associate director for research on the Immigration Policy team at the Center for American Progress.

To find the latest CAP resources on the coronavirus, visit our coronavirus resource page.