Academic Minute Podcast

Stephanie McNulty, Franklin & Marshall College – COVID-19 and its Effects on Undocumented Immigrants

On Franklin and Marshall College Week: COVID-19 has hit vulnerable populations the hardest.

Stephanie McNulty, professor of government and Latin American and latinx studies, explores its effects on one such group.

Dr. McNulty is Professor of Government and Latin American and Latinx Studies at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. She has twenty years of experience in higher education as an educator, scholar, and administrator. Her research expertise focuses on local participatory governance, gender, decentralization, citizen engagement, and democracy. She undertook this research project with two student researchers from F&M College and one researcher from CWS.

COVID-19 and its Effects on Undocumented Immigrants


How did undocumented immigrants and people with temporary immigrant visas experience the nation’s deadliest pandemic in history? To explore this issue we interviewed twenty-five immigrants with precarious legal status in Lancaster County during the Summer of 2021. We emerged with three findings.

First, every person we interviewed spoke about financial difficulties during the shutdown and much of 2020. More than half of our interviewees remained unemployed or under-employed as of their interview. Men tended to go back to work faster, especially because women were taking care of their children. Yet, there were no federal public assistance programs available to undocumented immigrants. This led one person to ask us in frustration: “Where is the check for immigrants? We work in this country too. We do the hardest jobs in the country.”

Second, although many people spoke about the unexpected benefit of spending more time with family at home during the shut down, the stress and uncertainty around their jobs, taking care of children, paying bills, and trying not to get sick took a severe toll on their mental health. A woman from El Salvador with several children told us that “Psychologically, it’s like I fell into a depression. Emotionally I was not good. My children also suffered because we spent our time stressed and anxious.”

Finally, undocumented immigrants had strong opinions about two policies that would have made their lives safer and healthier during the worst days of the pandemic: comprehensive immigration reform and emergency assistance contingent on a tax not a social security number.


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