Mario Chavez, an out gay undocumented immigrant living in Queens, embarked on a journey from Mexico to New York more than 20 years ago in hopes of fleeing anti-LGBTQ discrimination and finding a haven in the US.
While in Mexico, Chavez experienced homophobic bullying in grade school, college, and from family members. Eventually, this bias seeped into his job search, and after being rejected from gigs due to rampant anti-LGBTQ discrimination, he knew it was time to leave his home country.
“I decided to come to the United States to be happy, to be able to provide for myself and escape that violence,” Chavez said.
Chavez did find acceptance for his LGBTQ identity and work in the US. Since then, he has juggled everything from working in factories to cafes to construction. However, as a gay man, he still encounters bias on the job.
“In construction, there is often this stereotype that the job is for people who are straight,” he said.
Meanwhile, like many essential workers, Chavez was hit especially hard during the pandemic. Last year, he was hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a month, lost his job, and now he is still experiencing the long-term effects of COVID-19.
Moving forward, he wants President Joe Biden to step up and provide tangible support to immigrant communities.
“There are a lot of people, including myself, that had been excluded from federal and state relief,” Chavez, 48, told Gay City News in a phone call during his lunch break at work. “I remember when Joe Biden began his presidency, he promised that he would help millions of undocumented people have a path toward citizenship.”
Chavez explained that he did not have enough money to pay for rent and had to turn to others to borrow funds to get by. Those issues compound the health problems he has experienced.
“To this day, I have to continue going to the hospital and get checked out to make sure my left lung is working properly,” he said.
Research shows that undocumented communities face an increased risk of being exposed and contracting COVID-19 when compared with non-immigrant groups.
A report published last year revealed that undocumented people are more vulnerable to poverty, living in overcrowded spaces, and are more likely to have jobs that make physically distancing nearly impossible. That contributed to worse COVID-19 outcomes, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international group with folks from 37 countries focusing on social and economic policy.
Regardless, Chavez’s ask is simple — for the president to fulfill the commitments he made to immigrants while on the campaign trail.
“To President Joe Biden, I want to tell him that he should deliver on his promise,” He added. “So that people like me are able to stay in this country and do not have to fear deportation at the same time.”
Yatziri Tovar, a spokesperson for Make the Road, an advocacy group for immigrants and working class communities, translated this phone interview from Spanish to English.
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