So many of us are utterly consumed with fear and our personal prospects for escaping the contagion of the Corona virus. As we stoke our own anxieties, while we shelter in place, there is precious little else to occupy our thoughts except when this will all be over, and when can we return to some sense of normalcy. It’s human nature I suppose, but these musings will make the leap from self absorption to people in our society who are strangers in more ways than one to us. They live and work among us. Many are integral to our survival; they feed us. Others make our lives comfortable; they clean our houses and cut our lawns. Many are educated and round out the roster of employees in the tech trades. They nurse us back to health. They convey us from here to there. They populate the labs that search for cures to all manner of ailments with which we are afflicted. We may not speak their language, and they may struggle with ours. The cultural differences are myriad. The one point of commonality is that they all came here legally or illegally seeking a better life for themselves and their families. For some this has meant an undefined and indefinite incarceration. The people I speak of are immigrants, and they make this nation what it is. I wish to address the needs of a smaller cohort within the larger whole.I wish to make the invisible visible. I wish to acquaint you with the trepidations of those who do the work that most of us will not. I speak out for those whose voices remain muted in an implacable silence for fear of government retribution. I speak to you of those who toil in the open fields and below a sun that offers no respite. Our farmworkers require the same protections that all other essential workers do and more because the accommodations they are offered where they work don’t meet spatial requirements in this age of Corona. Overcrowded housing, cramped transportation, unsanitary working conditions, and cyclical poverty make the Presidents’ Task Force’s recommendations for social distancing, quarantining and/or isolation impossible.This is May, one month into the beginning of a new planting season. Consider what a sustained outbreak of Corona virus might mean to the farmworker’s ability to complete the work for which they were hired. Then extrapolate out to include the central valleys of California, the meat packing plants of the Midwest. Unabated, we are looking at a break in the food supply chain. I can’t minimize the risk because we already have reported outbreaks. Pork producing plants have been shut down. The current situation cries out for an immediate and proportionate response to the threat. Most of us are living in the moment, not looking down the road, or watching the storm clouds gather on the horizon. Will the search for food be an added caveat to the Darkest Winter?For the moment, let’s take a look at specific vulnerabilities of our farmworkers and recent detainees from the southern US border. With few exceptions they originate from many of the same countries, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. The social determinants of health often provide a rationale for increased susceptibilities to disease processes. Economic stability or poverty is first among them. The rest follow in the wake. If you are poor, your are less likely to be educated. Your access to health care is restricted by what you can afford to pay. Your community and neighborhood may be unsafe and prone to gang violence because of a dearth of job opportunities. In any case, these are a few reasons people flee. Most immigrants expect to support themselves by working when they arrive at their destination. Our farmworkers work at or below minimum wage, and consequently subsist at or below the established US poverty level. So please Mr. President don’t promote a bill to lower their pay. Farmworkers provide and invaluable service that has, until recently, been taken for granted.Therefore, what immediate steps might we take to ensure the continuity of the lives of those who are so integral to our food supply. Recent reports confirm that screening and testing in our rural agricultural sector are practically nonexistent. We must move quickly to mobilize the supplies, personal protective gear and tests to this underserved area. Farm operators must strategize as to how social distancing may be implemented in the fields and in transportation vehicles. Housing presents another logistical quandary, for which there is no one size fits all solution that will apply in every setting. If all this sounds redundant, it is purposely so. I write to reiterate and lend credence to what should now be obvious and clear. What seems most advantageous is to get ahead of the contagion in order to short circuit what is sure to be an inevitable, widespread, hugely impactful, catastrophic outcome. Clearly the policies we put in place now may slow the spread of Covid 19, and ensure a continuous pool of workers to the agricultural sector. Releasing more detainees with families in the US will free up space in our overcrowded detention centers. The few that have been released are not nearly enough to make a critical difference. Provide the water and hygiene items that reports say are being denied or woefully insufficient. Educate, test, and treat our detainees who are losing hope and are afraid. Our essential farmworkers and detainees are not sacrificial lambs on the altar of bias and neglect.Now is the time for prudent policy that exemplifies preparation, strategic thinking, and shows vision and compassion. Waiting to see what happens could mean rioting in the streets, Marshall Law, empty shelves, not just from the absence of toilet paper, but bread, meat, and produce. Most precious of all to us would be the unfathomable toll in human life. That is the statistic that cuts to the core of all our precautions, policy schemes, and the weight of what we do now placed upon our hearts and souls.
Note: Responses which fell closer to the middle (between two or three options) are shown as two dashes.