LOS ANGELES (AP) — Experts and advocacy groups are warning that many of the immigrants living in the U.S. without legal permission will not seek proper medical attention if they are sick as worries about the spread of the new coronavirus grow.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say the agency will focus deportation efforts on public safety threats and people with criminal records during the coronavirus crisis, a policy that roughly resembles its approach during President Barack Obama’s final two years in office.
But many immigrants remain hesitant to seek treatment.
“People won’t get tested, and we won’t be able to control infections,” one man living in Los Angeles without permission told The Associated Press. He asked not to be identified out of fear he could be deported.
“We are afraid to go and get tested, not knowing if immigration agents are going to be there doing their work,” he said. “It’s very, very hard.”
Almost immediately after taking office, President Donald Trump scrapped the Obama administration’s strategy to limit deportations to public safety threats, convicted criminals and recent border crossers, effectively making anyone vulnerable who is in the country without permission.
California has at least 870 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 16 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Natalia Molina, an expert on American studies and ethnicity who teaches at the University of Southern California, says this has happened with disease outbreaks in the past.
“The problem here is even more urgent because now we have a pandemic. This isn’t something about flu season or maybe even a tuberculosis hotspot, this is something that could affect us all,” she said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.
The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.