In this episode, we at the Podcast of the Plague Year were granted the opportunity to record interviews with two organizations assisting refugees that have been relocated to Arizona- RICE and Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest.
Refugees are those who have been forced to flee their country because of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, or political opinion. Almost 3 quarters of a million refugees have been resettled in the United States since 2008; they often come with very little resources to begin life anew once resettled. Life for refugees during resettlement comes with hope, but also with struggles to learn a new language, navigate new employment and educational systems and integrate into a new society. It is easy to imagine how a pandemic could intensify already existing struggles.
A cursory look into A Journal of the Plague Year reveals that the pandemic is nondiscriminatory, all of are affected. Yet, the reality is that Covid-19 is having more impact on certain populations in American communities. Arizona State University's Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict partnered with the Henry Luce Foundation to provide rapid relief funding to marginalized communities in the southwest. As part of the rapid relief program, the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict is collaborating with A Journal of the Plague Year and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication to raise awareness about the marginalized communities that were assisted via this grant.
By joining this "Southwest Stories" project, we at the Podcast of the Plague Year were granted the opportunity to spotlight one Native American community in Arizona- the White Mountain Apache Tribe.
As COVID-19 began to spread across the Southwest in March, lawyers representing incarcerated Arizonans reported “unsanitary conditions,” “inadequate medical staffing and treatment” and a “failure to take strong and sensible precautionary measures” in state prisons.
The combination left prisoners “highly vulnerable to outbreaks,” the attorneys wrote in a letter to the state before asking a federal judge to intervene. The judge did by issuing an order for officials to release more information, but prison advocates say it hasn’t been enough.
Nearly four months later, complaints of insufficient safety measures and subpar medical care continue to plague Arizona prisons. At least 569 prisoners at 13 of the state’s 16 prison complexes had tested positive for COVID-19 as of July 15, according to the Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry, and at least 371 staffers have reported positive results.
Justice reform advocates and others with ties to the correctional system worry the state is running out of time to prevent an even more dangerous surge in cases. COVID-19 can spread swiftly in crowded indoor spaces and among individuals with chronic health problems.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, students are adjusting to their new normal when it comes to online classes, virtual events and social distancing to prevent the spread of the disease.
But for deaf and hard of hearing students in Arizona public schools, as well as for many more enrolled in private schools, these adjustments introduce new barriers to communication and learning. Last year, according to the Arizona Department of Education, 1,622 deaf or hard of hearing students were in public schools.
Sequoia Deaf School, part of the Edkey Inc. charter school group in Mesa, had 52 students enrolled in grades K through 12 for the 2020-21 school year. Its experience navigating the pandemic illustrates some of the challenges deaf students face, such as difficulty reading lips and faces behind masks, the shorter attention spans of young deaf students and the loss of their nurturing school community.
PHOENIX – Civil rights marches. Anti-war protests. Rallies against gun violence.
Public demonstrations historically have involved the “mass mobilization of bodies,” according to Tiera Rainey, program director for the Tucson Second Chance Community Bail Fund and an organizer with Black Lives Matter Tucson.
But when the novel coronavirus struck, prompting warnings against crowds and close contact, Arizona’s new reality of social distancing forced organizers to rethink that framework.
As of early July, 87 workers and 58 family members, 23 of them children, had tested positive for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, according to data compiled by United Farm Workers, a labor union. Many more are awaiting results.
“I don’t want to go back,” Bertha said. She feels she has only two options: Accept the working conditions, or quit.
The pandemic has forced agricultural workers throughout the Southwest to make a similar choice between their health and their incomes. Though industry representatives say farms are doing everything they can do to protect their employees, worker advocates argue a lack of industry protections – and the “invisibility” of much of the work done by day laborers – have made farmworkers especially vulnerable to exploitation.
“It just shows the contradiction in calling somebody an ‘essential worker’ but only for what you need them for, not to care for them as human beings that also are afraid of getting sick,” said Juanita Valdez-Cox, a migrant-rights advocate in Texas.
PHOENIX – For more than three decades, André House just west of downtown has provided food, showers, temporary housing and other services to Arizonans experiencing homelessness or poverty.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of families seeking such services has almost doubled, said Ash Uss, the faith-based nonprofit’s coordinator of advocacy and partnerships.
“We have had families who show up and say, ‘I was just evicted,’ or ‘I’m about to be evicted,’ or ‘We’re living out of our car,’” Uss said. “The need is greater than it ever was.”
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention implemented a nationwide temporary eviction moratorium through the end of the year to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Under the order, landlords cannot evict renters who meet certain conditions: “exhausted their best efforts to pay rent, seek Government rental assistance, and are likely to become homeless due to eviction,” according to a statement from the White House.
However, the latest efforts may have little impact for those already struggling to secure housing. A July report from University of Arizona researchers suggests the spike in people seeking homeless services at André House and elsewhere in metro Phoenix may be just the beginning. Researchers found the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic shutdown could increase the state’s homeless population – about 11,000 as of January – by 16% to 42%.
“I think everybody needs to take this very seriously,” said Claudia Powell, associate director of the university’s Southwest Institute for Research on Women and co-author of the report, which put the number of at-risk renters at 365,000.
“It will be a bigger crisis than we can imagine if we don’t act soon.”
By Sarandon Raboin/Luce Foundation: Southwest Stories Fellowship