Marginalized Communities2

How Some Marginalized Communities Experience the Pandemic

June 30, 2020

In the age of social distancing, it’s especially critical that we take a closer look at issues compounded by marginalization.

As the pandemic enters its fifth month, some communities may be facing greater challenges than most. The larger dangers of COVID-19 among elderly populations or people with severe illness are by now widely known, but marginalized communities experience added complications that can affect their health or their ability to receive adequate treatment.

Immigrants and people with disabilities have been disproportionately impacted by changes brought about by the pandemic. Without the same access to economic relief or basic health care services, the coronavirus and its consequences pose increased risks to these communities.

To help readers better understand the issue, CU Denver’s experts provide insight into the additional considerations for people living through a pandemic while living on the periphery of social awareness.

On the Impact of COVID-19 among Immigrants

Edelina Burciaga, PhD, is a sociology professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She is an expert on matters relating to immigration and the sociology of law.


“Like most people, members of the immigrant community are facing increased uncertainty during the global pandemic. This uncertainty varies by legal status. For example, when many businesses closed in the early weeks of the Safer at Home orders, some legal permanent residents or green card holders were unsure if they were eligible for unemployment.”

“Individuals questioned whether, if they applied for unemployment benefits, this would negatively impact their application for citizenship down the road. So, in the early weeks, organizations had to clarify that applying for unemployment or seeking medical care would not negatively impact citizenship applications.”

“For immigrants without legal status or undocumented immigrants, there is even more uncertainty because they do not qualify for economic relief under the CARES Act, which means they are ineligible for the $1,200 stimulus check. This is despite the fact that many undocumented immigrants contribute to the economy and use an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) to file and pay taxes. Anyone who files their taxes with a person who uses an ITIN is also ineligible for the CARES Act, which could include a U.S. citizen filing with their undocumented spouse who uses an ITIN—the whole family would be ineligible.”

“Additionally, the Department of Education (DOE) distributed money to colleges through the CARES Act for students, but money could only be distributed to individuals who are eligible for federal financial aid. Both undocumented and DACAmented students are not eligible for federal financial aid, and therefore were not eligible for student grants under the CARES Act. There is currently a legal battle in various jurisdictions challenging this particular aspect of the CARES Act and the DOE.”

“Immigrants are facing all of the same economic and health implications of the pandemic, but are doing so under more uncertain conditions. Many immigrants—both those with and without legal status—work in essential positions from healthcare to frontline customer service, or in other industries that are deemed essential. Yet, they may not be benefiting from or may be afraid to access some of the social safety net programs.”

On the Pandemic’s Risks to People with Disabilities

Colleen Donnelly, PhD, is a professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, as well as the Chair of the Faculty Assembly Disabilities Committee.


“People with physical or mobility concerns may find it more difficult to receive the in-home caretaking help they need to perform daily activities, especially if that help is not provided by live-in helpers or family members. Continuing with treatment such as physical or occupational therapy has become more difficult, as health care centers have limited services. Public transportation, too, has become more difficult, as services and boarding access have been widely curtailed.”

“As for psychiatric disabilities, COVID has certainly exacerbated depression and anxiety. It has caused greater problems for people with post-traumatic stress disorder or for people who have been in recovery from a variety of other conditions by disrupting whatever routines and methods they have been using successfully.”

“Limited access to mental health care professionals and support systems has made situations for many people challenging. Teletherapy can be helpful, but not everyone has access to it, or the same access to their regular care provider as they had before the pandemic.”

“Concerningly, some people who are trying to avoid wearing masks claim they are exempt through the Americans with Disabilities Act, even going so far as to present fraudulent cards from the fictitious ‘Freedom to Breathe Agency.’ To pretend to have disability status to advantage oneself is extremely disturbing: it indicates how little people with disabilities are respected.”


Members of the CU Denver community can visit www.ucdenver.edu/coronavirus for a full list of health and mental health resources, or the Center for Identity & Inclusion for additional support, including Undocumented Student Services.