In Response to the Spread of COVID-19 in the United States, Immigrant Reactions May Vary

The reaction of U.S. citizens to the COVID-19 pandemic is characteristic of a culture built on vague notions of individuality and “freedom.” In cities across the country, anti-lockdown protestors have taken to the streets to demand state governors ease lockdown rules implemented to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Some concerns are rooted in the economic welfare of the country and the financial health of its citizens. Many anti-lockdown protestors find it unethical for the government to close businesses without providing additional financial stimuli for its citizens, beyond a one-time stimulus payment and regular unemployment benefits. Still, a startling minority of anti-lockdown protestors doubt the existence of COVID-19 altogether, claiming the virus is a hoax enabling the government to strip citizens of their constitutional rights. This duality encapsulates the mentality of a nation: everything, even scientific evidence and studies conducted in controlled environments, is up for debate.

When the coronavirus first grew to prominence in the United States, coronavirus conspiracies were more or less unheard of. More commonly discussed was the widespread panic of U.S. citizens, who swarmed grocery stores to buy food, cleaning products, and, most memorably, toilet paper. The fact of the matter is that disaster preparedness is not a practice ingrained in most U.S. citizens. Though citizens in certain regions of the country are well-equipped to deal with specific natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, these weather events are seasonal, and allow for last-minute preparedness efforts. As the COVID-19 pandemic has made plain, many U.S. citizens were woefully unprepared for an extended disaster – one that citizens couldn’t board their windows to wait out.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are not limited to U.S. citizens. Some immigrant populations are uniquely vulnerable, for different reasons. A 2006 study by the American Public Health Association (APHA) cited a lack of English proficiency and access to public benefits as two hindrances to certain immigrant populations during natural and human-made disasters. Especially now, when applications for permanent residency require foreign nationals to list all the benefits they have received, to their detriment, immigrants may be hesitant to register for benefits they need in a crisis. According to the APHA study, some immigrants may also worry that seeking aid will impact their immigration statuses.

In specific immigrant populations, however, the opposite may also be true. Foreign nationals from countries experiencing military conflict may be accustomed to rationing resources for extended periods of time. For asylees, risk assessment is a critical element of survival, sometimes the difference between life and death. In these populations, panic-buying and hoarding are not considered rational responses. Immigrants across populations may be more inclined to purchase the bare essentials, such as raw ingredients and alcohol, instead of pre-packaged meals and hand sanitizer. Many are also familiar with local grocery stores and markets that may be overlooked in favor of the most common chains.

Overall, while the pandemic continues to cripple the economy, it is more important than ever that the U.S. government provides easily accessible financial and social support for both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals living in the United States, no matter how well-equipped certain populations may be.


[See Addressing the Needs of Immigrants in Response to Natural and Human-Made Disasters in the United States, American Public Health Association, 08.Nov.2006, Policy # 20061. See also Immigrants Know All About Disaster Preparedness by Liana Aghajanian, The Nation, 07.Apr.2020.]


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