Immigrant and marginalized people are being laid off the most during the pandemic, and USC is no exception

This is a graphic design of the word “opinion” in a speech bubble. The background is purple and there are various shapes surrounding the speech bubble.

The coronavirus has been a pressing issue around the world and in the United States  for almost a year now, during which there have been numerous instances of tragedy striking the most vulnerable communities including low income class, immigrant and Black and Indigenous people and people of color. Not only are these communities the most at risk of exposure and dying from the coronavirus, they are also more at risk of unemployment. 

Prior to the pandemic, migrant workers were more employed than native U.S. workers, but the drastic change in the state of the economy hit immigrant workers the most. The number of unemployed workers fell by about 24 million at the beginning of 2020. Immigrants made up most of those job cuts — the decline in their employment rates reaching 19% according to the PEW Research Center. Other marginalized groups have faced higher unemployment rates during the pandemic, with Latinx women being the most affected, facing a 21% employment decline.

The reason immigrant, specifically undocumented immigrant communities, are the most vunerable to unemployment traces back to a history of discimination against them. 

Historically, undocumented immigrants have fought for rights in the workplace considering this community faces the most exploitation. Cases of immigrant exploitation include the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and Great Depression migrant worker conditions on the West Coast. Although immigrant workers gained rights through the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, some workspaces opt to not enforce labor laws, and since unemployed workers may fear being fired or deported, they often do not speak up about unfair treatment in their workspace. 

During the pandemic specifically, undocumented workers may have restrictions in regards to their access of public benefits and social safety nets, thus making it easier for companies to fire their immigrant workers with no real need to provide great unemployment benefits.

Although many immigrant workers and allies have also taken this time to speak up about this issue in other workspaces, USC’s issue of unemployment and layoffs remains out of the media. Although the Instagram account @USCscale has gained traction among students and has dedicated their work to raising awareness, the layoff issue remains unrecognized by any media source outside of the account.

According to the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation at USC, USC transportation, hospitality and housing workers received an email announcement  in December of layoffs and furloughs that were going to happen on December 31st. SCALE also pointed out that most of these workers are Black and brown community members who are already at a higher risk of being impacted by the coronavirus. On top of possibly losing a stable course of income, these workers also risked losing healthcare benefits. Even if they were hired again later on, they would start off with a “clean slate,” which means none of their previous employment benefits would remain intact. 

Immigrant workers laid off during the pandemic may seem like a problem outside of the proximity of USC; indeed, that is certainly what is suggested by the lack of awareness the community has about what’s going on. 

But, this is not the case. USC is not an exception of targeting an already vulnerable community and being complicit in worsening their financial situation.

Immigrant communities and the Black and brown community members make up an important part of USC and are essential to the success of the University. Not only does USC as a whole need to become more aware of the problem, but it must also demand the protections of these workers.