- Nearly half of America's 2.4 million farmworkers are in the country without legal permission.
- These farmworkers have been deemed essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic, and are often working long hours in harsh conditions to supply the country with food.
- These workers weren't eligible for most of the federal assistance given to Americans amid the crisis, and one worker said she fears what could happen if she gets sick.
- But she said she's proud of her work, and hopes President Donald Trump will one day make it easier for workers like her to stay in the country legally.
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More than 1 million of America's 2.4 million farmworkers are in the country without legal permission.
These farmworkers plow, pick, and harvest the country's fields, often for long hours and low wages, and in grueling conditions. And despite their unauthorized status, these farmworkers have been deemed essential workers during the US coronavirus crisis, which has plunged the economy into uncertainty and raised fears about food shortages.
Now, these workers risk getting COVID-19 to supply food for the country, while arguing the country isn't doing enough to protect them during the pandemic.
Farmworker advocates have expressed concern that a lack of education could leave workers susceptible to a major outbreak. That would not only wreak havoc on America's immigrant community, but it could disrupt food supply chains and cause shortages in grocery stores.
"We're treated as essential workers right now because if we don't do this kind of work, the United States is not going to have food in supermarkets, food to feed the nation," Mily Treviño-Sauceda, cofounder of the farmworkers advocacy group Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, told Business Insider Weekly.
Carmelita is one of more than 1 million unauthorized immigrants who are working through the pandemic. She told Business Insider Weekly she's been working in the country for 13 years.
"I don't feel 'essential,' as they say, because we don't have the same privileges," Carmelita said in Spanish.
She was referring to government programs and services available to Americans that she cannot access due to her immigration status.
Carmelita did not receive a $1,200 stimulus payments like her American counterparts, and she's also ineligible for health insurance programs like Medicaid, which would cover the costs of her treatment if she grew sick with COVID-19.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom allocated $75 million to provide $500 cash to the state's unauthorized immigrants, but it only covered about 150,000 people.
Irene de Barraicua of Lideres Campesinas, a group that works with women farmworkers in California, told Business Insider Weekly that one of her top concerns is the workers' lack of awareness about the disease, which could be solved by bringing more health care workers out to visit the farms and educate the workers.
"That's definitely a concern that some people are going to work and they might have already more information than others in terms of what COVID-19 is," she said. "And so they worry when they're working next to someone else that hasn't read anything or isn't as informed."
Still, despite everything, Carmelita said she's proud of her work.
"We are the ones who are harvesting the products, fruits, and vegetables so they get to the table of the people who have to stay home," she said.
But she longs to one day not have to worry about losing everything she's worked for simply due to her immigration status.
She says she hopes that one day President Donald Trump will give workers like her a "blue card," which Democrats have proposed for agricultural workers. The blue cards would provide the immigrants with a pathway to permanent, legal status in the US.
Carmelita's sons are American citizens, but she said she hopes to one day call herself the same.
"Right now what motivates me to work so hard is to help my children get ahead so that they can have a better life than I have," she said. "I know I can't give them everything, but at least they can get a better education than I did, so they'll be less likely to end up as farmworkers."
Meanwhile, the pandemic continues to draw attention to the nation's food sources. Last week, the Hispanic Heritage Foundation announced that farmworkers are being honored at this year's Hispanic Heritage Awards.
"Every single time we take a bite of food, we should think about the importance of our farmworkers in our lives, especially during the COVID-19 crisis as they put themselves and their families at risk to nobly nourish our families. Their service is nothing short of heroic," Antonio Tijerino, president and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, said in a statement.
"It is with tremendous gratitude, pride, and admiration that we honor farmworkers."