As the President pushes for meat-processing plants to re-open or stay open, the number of workers getting infected with Covid-19 continues to rise. Approximately 30% of workers at those plants are immigrants, some of whom are documented and some not. Pre-corona, these same plants were the targets for raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which rounds up suspected illegal immigrants en masse at public venues like subways, churches, event spaces and suspected work sites.

Several thousand immigrant workers nationwide were put into deportation processes based on these raids, clearly showing that the administration considered immigrants to be expendable. Wind the clock forward, and now the President is imploring companies like Tyson, which recently announced it would be closing plants, to stay open, which means the once expendable immigrant workers are now magically essential.

Conditions are so dangerous, with very little space between workers, that these workplaces are ripe for quick spreading of the disease. This is on top of being dangerous pre-corona, and with the increased pressure of making up for the closed facilities in order to meet the nation’s ravenous demand, more speed equals more injuries. What this means is putting workers in conditions that the U.S. usually criticizes other countries for, like Bangladesh, India and China – not caring about the basic human rights of the workers who are simply production machines.

What we forget under the stress and craziness of Covid-19 pandemic is that treating workers fairly is what differentiated the U.S. from other countries for a long time, and now not only are we ignoring basic human care, we are proactively forcing workers to risk getting sick, and maybe infecting their families and communities, which can only lead to the unnecessary increase in our national death toll.

Latinos, blacks and Asian workers constitute more than half of the nation’s meat and poultry processing plant workers. Many of these individuals are first-generation immigrants. Whereas a year ago these same individuals might have been put in deportation proceedings for working at the same plants, they are now being forced to work, whether they get sick or not, essentially being treated not like humans, but like an extra set of hands and arms and legs which can pluck more feathers or bleed more pigs. It is a sad statement made by our President that the economy matters more than human life, and ironically the immigrants of the “invisible class” who are so crucial to making this country’s move forward are deemed as being essential, while simultaneously being treated as expendable, literally.

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