Originally Published in Salon
Sarah Varney - February 18, 2021
Eastern Tennessee: doctors see how hard-line immigration policy can affect the health and well-being of a community
Tony Dix receives his second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a drive-thru vaccination site operated by the Florida Department of Health at St. Patricks Catholic Church on January 26, 2021 in Mount Dora, Florida. More than one million seniors 65 and older have been vaccinated in the state. (Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images))
In 2018, federal agents raided a meatpacking plant in Morristown, a manufacturing hub in the Tennessee Valley, and detained nearly 100 workers they suspected of being in the country illegally. In the weeks that followed, scores of immigrant families who had found work in the meat-processing plants dotting broader Hamblen County scrambled to find sanctuary in churches — and scrupulously avoided seeking medical care.
The reason? Immigration agents were staking out clinics.
"We did not want people to come in for care because there were ICE officers in our parking lot," said Parinda Khatri, chief clinical officer at Cherokee Health Systems, a nonprofit provider in Hamblen County.
As Tennessee, like other states, embarks on the daunting task of inoculating millions of residents against covid-19, many health officials find their mission complicated by a pervasive mistrust of government and law enforcement among unauthorized immigrants, a population estimated at 11 million across the U.S.