President Trump owes an urgent apology to a surprisingly large group of health workers who are risking their lives to fight the COVID-19 pandemic: immigrants. And yes, that includes the undocumented Latino immigrants he has been vilifying – and trying to deport – for the past three and half years.
Immigrants make up a sizable portion of U.S. healthcare workers. If you add other support workers in medical facilities, such as cleaners, cooks and food deliverers, the number of foreign-born healthcare workers — both legal and undocumented — is even more staggering.
More than 29 percent of all U.S. physicians and 31 percent of nurses and nursing aides are foreign-born, according to a 2018 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study did not include support personnel, such as cleaning workers.
What’s more, there are 27,000 “DREAMers” — undocumented young adults brought to this country as infants and raised as Americans — who are healthcare practitioners, including physicians, says a 2017 study by the Center for American Progress.
Trump wants to deport them, like the rest of the estimated 825,000 beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA allows them to live and work temporarily in the United States without fear of deportation.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule in the coming days or weeks on Trump’s efforts to send them back to their native countries. In many cases, DREAMers were schooled in America and don’t even speak the language of the countries in which they were born.
As crazy as it sounds, the Trump administration is seeking to deport them at the very time when New York and other parts of the country are desperately seeking physicians and nurses to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
Even before this crisis, the Association of American Medical Colleges was warning that the United States would see a deficit of about 122,000 physicians by 2032.
Something similar is happening among foreign-born scientists, including those who are trying to find a vaccine or cure for the coronavirus.
As Brookings Institution senior fellow Dany Bahar reminded me this week, more than 40 percent of all tertiary-degree holders working in science and engineering in the United States are foreign-born, according to the National Science Foundation.
I see this first hand every time I visit my wife — a Ph.d. in biology doing research at the University of Miami’s neurology department — when I visit her at work. Most of the scientists at her 12-person lab come from other parts of the world. Her office looks like the United Nations.
“We have been hearing a toxic rhetoric against immigrants in the United States over the past three years. The fact is that immigrants are an essential part of the fight against the coronavirus,” Bahar, of Brookings, told me.
“If there is a problem with immigrants in this country, it’s that there aren’t enough of them,” he added. “Looking forward, it’s important to increase the U.S. capacity to attract immigrants in many sectors.”