New Bedford, Massachusetts, once as the whaling capital memorialized in “Moby Dick” and again in the textile era, has been the wealthiest city in America twice. There will be no third time as the charm. All fixes are temporary, just enough to ease the pain. “Irish Battleships'” (three family houses whose facades resemble that of the warship) stairs repaired with unfinished two by fours and planks. Plastic and tape cover broken windows, front doors blockaded. In the early dawn expiring fire detectors chirp incessantly like a chorus of summer crickets.
Generations of inept, local politicians employed, primarily through nepotism, mostly white civil servants, cops, city workers, and teachers. All of whom live in the more affluent, privileged suburbs like Dartmouth, Marion, and Mattapoisett. Although financially supported by the city, this middle class is indifferent to the metropolis’ plight. Only two classes of people now reside here, the poor and the working poor. The poverty rate is nearly 25% (more than two and one-half times the national average) and growing.
With no money to donate or influence to peddle, the politicians in Boston, only fifty-nine miles to the north, are deaf to the area’s cry for help. There is no sense investing resources in a situation that has gone from critical to terminal. On the rare occasion when anyone in the state capital mentions New Bedford, it is only to confuse it with Fall River. A similarly sociological situated sister city fourteen miles to the west.
Gang violence related to the drug trade dominates New Bedford’s Northside. The Southside surrounded by Buzzards Bay’s beauty, is home to mostly Latino immigrants. The Spanish community ranges from undocumented immigrants to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) kids brought here by their parents. When the President Trump says, “there are good people on both sides” of the race issue, and then refuses to denounce white supremacy, all immigrants know whose side the President takes. The result is the entire population lives in fear. Even the documented dreamers, over 91% of whom are employed, many in the health care field, feel some sense of impending doom.
The most direct result of this fear is to have as little interaction with governmental agencies and authorities as possible. They perform mostly menial labor for cash that is, in every way, invisible. Without any payroll records, this demographic is ineligible for Pandemic financial assistance. Even those immigrants who have obtained “legal” employment through some means would not risk exposing themselves further by applying for a stimulus check or unemployment insurance. Sick or not, they must continue to work. Likewise, they are ineligible for healthcare. A simple COVID test, much less a doctor’s visit, creates an unwanted record of their existence. To this group, concerns over COVID can not exist. To acknowledge COVID-19’s presence in any way would threaten their literal existence.
The fears are not unwarranted. A botched Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid in New Bedford over ten years ago seems to have bought some longstanding legal cover. However, one local law enforcement official, an ardent Trump supporter, refused to treat ICE detainees for COVID-19. Surprising to no one but him, a riot ensued. He responded by blaming defense attorneys who had exposed the conditions through a lawsuit. Further affirming that President Trump and his supporters think the Constitution applies only to them. Additionally, their interpretation of the treatise makes them free to do what they want when they want, a reading of the Bill of Rights that should give us all pause.
While immigrants’ approach in ignoring COVID is born of necessity, the practical result is unnecessary suffering and death. New Bedford, has consistently been amongst the communities in Massachusetts with a high positive test rate. Given the immigrants forced isolation, lack of testing, and inability to obtain treatment, this number is undoubtedly vastly underreported. Due to a change, Massachusetts may now be underreporting the actual positive rate for all COVID tests. Finally, recent studies confirm minority communities likely for many of the reasons set forth above, have a much higher incidence rate of COVID-19 infection and death.
Why does any of this concern you? If you have read this far and felt no moral obligation, you have probably decided who you will vote for on November 3, (not Joe Biden). But while this community prefers to remain invisible, they are not absent. As long as this highly contagious virus has the means to spread and kill, COVID will do so without regard to race, social or financial status, or geographic location.
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