Elizabeth Kiester, Albright College – A Virus Without Papers: The Impact of COVID-19 on Immigrant Communities

Immigrant communities have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Elizabeth Kiester, associate professor of sociology at Albright College, determines the reasons.

Dr. Elizabeth Kiester is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Albright College in Reading, PA.  She specializes in Gender and Family Studies particularly within labor market organizations and globally with regard to immigration.  Her most current research projects focus on the impact of COVID-19, precarious status, detention, and deportation on immigrant communities.  She teaches a wide spectrum of classes including Sociology of the Family, Work and Family Conflict, Parenting and Technology, and Immigration and Transnational Families.  She received her PhD in Sociology from Utah State University (Logan, UT) and her BA in Political Science and Sociology from Carroll College (Helena, MT).

A Virus Without Papers: The Impact of COVID-19 on Immigrant Communities


The global pandemic brought about by COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of people around the world.  It has exposed the inequality already facing vulnerable populations: those living in economically precarious situations and those lacking access to healthcare.  We also know that frontline workers deemed essential to meet our basic needs have faced enormous personal risk to keep earning their paychecks and the economy running.  Immigrant communities face all three of these conditions, making them one of the most vulnerable populations in the US.  In order to better understand the impact of the virus on immigrant communities, we conducted interviews via Zoom with immigrant service providers including lawyers, case workers, religious leaders, and doctors.  Key concerns of our respondents included lack of access to food, healthcare, and cash assistance to help with rent as many immigrants were not eligible for the federal relief funds provided to many citizens.  In addition, providing legal advice and healthcare was complicated by the required transition to online meetings and magnifying issues of digital literacy, internet connectivity, and language barriers.  Our findings suggest immigrants are heavily concentrated in essential industries, which increased their exposure to the virus.  In addition, they lack access to any type of social safety nets when trying to access healthcare or facing job or income loss.   Lastly, COVID-19 did not slow down the detention and deportation process in the US, which led to increased transmission of the virus not only amongst detainees but to the countries in which people were deported including countries that often lacked an adequate infrastructure for dealing with the pandemic.  Immigrant communities will be dealing with the long-term effects of the pandemic for years to come.

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