As COVID-19 further inflicts fear in the undocumented community, caregivers like Emma are still forced to go to work without any protection. While she is integrated in the U.S. healthcare industry as a worker, she is not given access to the care she deserves for herself. Since Emma cannot afford to stay home, she is taking as many preventive measures as possible.
“It’s really, really scary because you don’t know what will happen to you. I am a breast cancer survivor, so I take very good care of my health. I wear gloves. I wear a mask. When I am back home [from the grocery store], I spray my shoes with disinfectant. I have to also take care of my client so she doesn’t get sick,” Emma shared with us.
Emma used to work as a financial consultant and money lender in the Philippines. She had to move to the United States in 2007 after one of her clients never returned a large loan, and now works day and night to pay off the debt she was left with. She has not seen her family or friends since then.
Similarly to Emma, many elderly undocumented folks have emigrated from their native countries leaving everything behind, including their rights. Even though the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has made great progress in reducing the numbers of people uninsured in the U.S., there are still thousands of undocumented immigrants who are explicitly — and unjustly — denied any healthcare coverage by the state.
In California, the #Health4All Campaign and Coalition emerged as a result of the fight to remove such limitations and provide universal access to healthcare, regardless of one’s immigration status. One of the founders of this movement, Héctor T. Plascencia, serves as a key leader and policy advocate, and has mobilized for legislative change throughout the years.
As a transgender and undocumented person, Héctor indicated their work is always grounded on self-love and self-care. Despite COVID-19 and this time of quarantine, Héctor has continued to work for their community through online strategies, utilizing Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to spread the message, as well as phone calls with representatives to push legislation that will accomplish #Health4All.
COVER/AGE, the 2019 documentary by Set Hernandez Rongkilyo, explores some of the challenges of #Health4All and focuses on age discriminatory policies within the healthcare system of the United States. As an undocumented filmmaker and community organizer, Set believes in elevating the voices of directly-impacted individuals, highlighting the power of authentic storytelling in political transformation.
When critiquing the marginalization of elderly undocumented folks by federally-funded programs, understanding micro-levels of systematic oppression becomes essential to theorize and draw connections on a macro-level. By centering Emma and Héctor’s experiences, COVER/AGE discusses both the consequences of exclusionary healthcare coverage laws and the on-going community efforts to achieve more inclusive healthcare solutions.
We should all educate ourselves on these issues and use our privileges to support the fight of Set, Emma, Héctor, and millions. Let’s join the California Immigrant Policy Center for an online broadcast of COVER/AGE today at 2 P.M. PT and 5 P.M. ET! By RSVPing at http://bit.ly/coveragenational, a link will be sent. After the screening, stay for a panel discussion on immigrant health justice.
This is an opportunity to understand — through Emma and Héctor’s lives – the constant struggles of the undocumented community beyond the current crisis. In fact, when asked what are the reactions of the undocumented community to the coronavirus pandemic, Héctor expressed that “there’s a lot of anxiety and stress that continues to exist; it has always existed.”
We need to remember there is always great uncertainty around healthcare coverage for undocumented people, especial elders, domestic workers, and transgender individuals. “It’s not just now, but even when there’s no COVID-19 we’re at a loss. Domestic workers are always excluded from any benefits,” said Emma. COVER/AGE is a reminder that although the coronavirus pandemic may be temporary, unless we all demand universal access and protection, healthcare exclusion is not.