San Jose’s immigrant population essential to COVID-19 response efforts, report says

Bay Area

(Nexstar, file)

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KRON) —  In the South Bay, new research suggests San Jose’s immigrant population is essential to COVID-19 response efforts along with being the most vulnerable due to gaps in aid. 

The city of San Jose was one of twelve recipients of the New American Economy (NAE) research in an effort to gather culturally sensitive emergency response measures to include all residents regardless of immigration status. 

Research shows how immigrants are vulnerable due to gaps in federal relief packages, language access barriers and increased risks of infection as they work the frontline and essential work force.

The research is based on 2018 census estimates of the San Jose metropolitan area showing 38.5 percent of the area’s population are immigrants — making 68 percent of the areas agriculture workers, over 62 percent of all food processing workers, nearly 50 percent of all restaurant and food service industries and 43.5 percent of healthcare workers in San Jose. 

Information gathered will be used to inform advocacy, development and implementation of inclusive local emergency responses throughout the community. 

“The report basically reveals things that we already knew but sometimes it’s important to have a third party do the research objectively and then hand over the data, so that we can then enforce why we make some of the decisions that we are making,” said Zulma Maciel, Director of San Jose’s Office of Immigrants Affairs. 

“Which will help now inform and justify and reinforce the need to focus on immigrants and refugees in our community.”

Consequently the immigrant population is also at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and play an important role in San Jose as job creators but face significant economic challenges due to the shelter-in-place orders. 

According to the research, immigrants make up over 67 percent of business owners in hospitality and 58.3 percent of business owners in general services which includes laundromats, baber and repair shops. 

In addition, nearly 57,000 of the area’s immigrant population lacked healthcare coverage in 2018. 

In total, San Jose’s immigrant population paid $12.9 billion in federal taxes and $5.3 billion in state and local taxes.

“We know that many households speak a language other than english,” said Maciel.

“It reinforced our need to ensure that we have a language access unit that sits in the emergency operation center to ensure all communications that go out, go out minimally in Spanish, Vietnemese and Mandarin. 

The study also found nearly 164,900 immigrants living in San Jose had limited English proficiency with the top five languages spoken at home other than English being Spanish at 43.4 percent, Vietnamese at 22.6 percent, Chinese at 17.6 percent, Tagalog at 3 percent and Hindi and related at 3 percent. 

The Office of Immigrant Affairs says they have had to switch their strategies to getting vital information to the community amid the coronavirus pandemic — partnering with trusted local organizations.  

“There are a variety of ways that people get their information,” said Maciel.

“Hearing from their places of worship, community organizations that they trust, teachers or getting text messages on WhatsApp from people that they trust.”

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