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Idaho Farmworkers Want The Vaccine, But Being Undocumented Makes That Complicated


Idaho farm workers can now get the COVID-19 vaccine. But navigating the healthcare system is complicated, and it’s even more cumbersome for undocumented farmworkers as they try to get the vaccine.

A Spanish-language version of this story and audio is available here.

When it comes to getting the shot, Esperanza is ready to go.

"I will get it," she said. "When I can get the shot, I'll take it."

She’s undocumented and didn’t want to share her last name. She’s lived and worked in the states for a while now, two decades of preparing fields, harvesting potatoes and cultivating cattle feed.

Sam Byrd of the Centro de Comunidad Y Justicia in Boise says a key to getting agriculture workers like Esperanza the vaccine is community health clinics.

“Historically, they have served farm workers,” said Byrd, “they have been accessible to them, so I would think that's going to be here one of the best ways.”

But these clinics can’t solve everything. A major way people can get information access on vaccines is through a doctor-patient relationship.

Many undocumented workers don’t have that because they don’t have health insurance. The alternative is paying out of pocket, but that's often pricey, and unpredictable.

Esperanza, for example, went to a local clinic in December, her whole family was sick with body and head aches and vomiting. They wanted COVID tests but, she said the doctor said it wasn’t necessary. They didn’t get tested, but they did a hefty bill.

And her husband still feels constant fatigue.

“Of the two times we went to the doctor, we got a bill of about $500 dollars," she said. "We need to pay that to go back.”

While the vaccines are free, a consultation with a doctor isn’t and that lack of dialogue creates a gap in crucial information, something Byrd said needs to be addressed by everyone from employers to community organizers and doctors.

“Folks will know what to do with that information,” said Byrd. “But the onus is on us to provide that."

And that could mean anything from what vaccine groups a person falls into to where they can get a shot.

Angelica, another Latina undocumented farmworker, knows it’ll soon be her turn to get the vaccine, she just doesn’t know when or how.

“We've barely started this year's work, and the truth is no, we don't have anything in terms of help right now from work to support us in going to a clinic," Angelica said.

She wants the shot for herself and her young family. She feels an urgency because she says too many seem to not take it seriously. 

“They have parties, they have rodeos, as if there were no pandemic,” she said.

A lingering concern for Byrd is the discrimination they may face: In order to get the vaccine they’ll need to provide some sort of identification that they live and work in the state.

A driver’s licence is out of the question, so they’ll likely have to provide a utility bill with the person's name, a letter from an employer or a faith organization or some other form of ID, leaving him wondering if the people they work for should be more involved in the immunization process.

“Do we do that through employers?” he said. “You know, that could be one of the biggest ways if the employers are requiring it.”

Idaho health districts are working on partnering with businesses, but Esperanza and Angelica, for now, still haven’t heard anything about getting the shot.

Follow Gustavo Sagrero on Instagram @gus.chavo

Copyright Boise State Public Radio 2021