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Undocumented Workers Demand Better, Safer Working Conditions During Pandemic

Undocumented workers are holding car caravans in several states Friday to demand dignity and safe working conditions. Latinx and Black immigrant workers are being forced to choose between a paycheck and their health.

Norma Morales is a 46-year-old single mother of two girls in New Jersey. She cleans homes.

"I started to feel symptoms four weeks ago," Morales says. "I came down with a deep cough and lost my sense of taste and smell."

Morales says she didn't get tested for the coronavirus because she doesn't have health insurance. She decided to stay home.

"I was concerned about infecting my daughters and my community," she says. Morales doesn't have paid sick time and says she lost income.

"This is the first time that I'm not working," says Morales, who came to the U.S. from Mexico 22 years ago. "I want to work, but I still feel weak."

Dana Marquez is an organizer with Cosecha, an immigrant rights organization and the organizer of Friday's car caravans in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Texas.

"There is a lot of frustration in the immigrant community," Marquez says. "Whether it is meat packing or agricultural fields, undocumented immigrants have few protections. "

"These workers are having to decide whether to earn a paycheck or be exposed to the coronavirus," Marquez says. "We are asking elected officials to create safe working environments for these essential workers."

"I feel very anxious," says Edgar, a building superintendent in Worcester, Mass. He doesn't want to give his last name for fear of losing his job.

His boss provides face masks and gloves, says Edgar in his native Spanish, "but even with all the precautions, I'm running a risk of getting infected."

Edgar and his wife came from Ecuador more than a decade ago. They are both undocumented, but their daughters are U.S. citizens. They are taxpayers, but by virtue of being a mixed immigration status family they don't qualify to benefit from the federal stimulus package.

"That's why I'm protesting in the caravan today," Edgar says. "I contribute to this economy, but if I don't work and risk my health, I don't get a check. I'm asking [that] we immigrants are treated with dignity too."

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Marisa Peñaloza is a senior producer on NPR's National Desk. Peñaloza's productions are among the signature pieces heard on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as weekend shows. Her work has covered a wide array of topics — from breaking news to feature stories, as well as investigative reports.