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A Crisis on Two Fronts: Black Immigrants Face COVID-19 in California and Back Home



California is home to an estimated 11 million immigrants and many of them are Black — from Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe and other parts of the world.

According to the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) at the University of Southern California, immigrants make up 6.5% of California’s Black population. That figure has doubled since 1980.

In California, 35% of all healthcare professionals are immigrants, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Many more are other essential workers, toughing it out on the frontlines working in the service industry or in medical, transportation and sanitation jobs.

Mawata Kamara, who is originally from Liberia, works as an emergency room nurse in San Leandro, a suburb east of the San Francisco Bay in Alameda County. She said that her hospital currently sees about two to three COVID-19 patients a day.

According to Kamara, she gets confused trying to keep up with the government’s guidance regarding the pandemic. For example, she’s currently re-using N-95 masks, which used to be forbidden, she says. She also gets a stream of e-mails with constant updates — sometimes conflicting news — about the virus itself, safety changes or how to treat the disease.

“The general feeling of unpreparedness is everywhere,” said Kamara.

As an African immigrant, Kamara says she sees the unique challenges that Black people, both immigrants and American-born Blacks, face in dealing with COVID-19. One of the reasons the disease has affected the Black community is because many people live in multi-generational families, Kamara says.

This makes it very difficult to self-quarantine. Kamara said one of her African co-workers faced this situation when she contracted the disease and didn’t want to take it back home where she lived with several relatives.

Kamara is also concerned about her native country, Liberia, which has been affected by the disease. The country currently has more than 210 COVID-19 infections. About half the patients have survived. Twenty people have died from the disease.

Liberia, which has an underdeveloped healthcare system, was devastated by the Ebola pandemic, which started in 2014 and resulted in more than 11,000 deaths.

In Los Angeles, Lyndon Johnson is publisher of CaribPress.  A native of Jamaica, Johnson said the disease presents a unique danger to people from his country because many of them also work in the healthcare field.

Jamaica currently has more than 500 infections and nine deaths. Johnson said people coming in from certain countries are automatically quarantined.

Many Caribbean community organizations in California and around the country organize annual health missions, where they return home and perform healthcare checkups. Those have all been canceled as well, said Johnson.

Back on the frontlines of the crisis in California, Kamara says she believes we are not over the worse of the pandemic.

That’s why she is discouraged by protesters who are demanding businesses reopen. Kamara said too many Americans don’t realize the dangers of  COVID-19 because of misinformation.

“Until that’s addressed, people won’t take it seriously,” she said.

Undocumented Black immigrants who want to apply for California’s coronavirus emergency assistance program should contact the following groups representing their area:

Bay Area:

Catholic Charities of California

Alameda and Contra Costa:

Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo: Santa Clara:

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