An Arizona Republican congresswoman was slammed for saying Hispanics are “good workers,” but “American citizens” should receive COVID-19 vaccinations first.
According to NBC News, last week, during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., said: “I worked with Hispanics. I mean, they’re very good workers…We’re compassionate people, but for goodness sakes, we have to take care of American citizens, or people that are here legally, first.”
“I’m just not going to be able to explain to my senior citizens that we’re giving away the vaccines to people that (are) here illegally,” Lesko said. “I just think that’s totally wrong.”
Lesko’s comments outraged many Latinos, and because Arizona’s population is almost 32% Latino, her comments were deemed inconsiderate and racist.
Furthermore, less than 4 percent of people in the state are undocumented, Pew Research Center reported.
The state is already prioritizing the vaccine for senior citizens, healthcare workers, and other critical care workers.
“It reeks of racism,” state Sen. Martin Quezada, a Democrat whose district overlaps with Lesko’s, said of her remarks. “There are a lot of people of color in her district, and for her to be disconnected and really that offensive about how she sees us, as nothing more than good workers and not entitled to equitable vaccine distribution.”
Lesko’s comments came as the committee met to discuss a Covid-19 relief bill. A Republican amendment would have prioritized American citizens for vaccines. However, Democrats argued that essential workers across the nation include undocumented immigrants, therefore, keeping them from receiving the vaccine wouldn’t help slow the virus’s spread.
Luckily, the amendment did not pass.
Lesko isn’t backing down on her statements either. She released a statement to several news outlets saying what she said “could be misinterpreted” and chose to somewhat reiterate her stance.
“It’s outrageous that Democrats are prioritizing illegal immigrants over American citizens! Their Covid-19 ‘plan’ would allow illegal immigrants to get vaccinated ahead of our nation’s seniors who are desperately waiting to get vaccinated, ” she tweeted.
This comes as no surprise considering she also cosponsored Arizona’s law SB1070–which allowed state law enforcement to ask about citizenship and immigration status to anyone considered suspicious during routine traffic stops.
Luckily, many parts of the law were struck down by the courts.
In a time of a pandemic, “Lesko’s horrifyingly ignorant comment makes no sense from a scientific perspective — diseases do not stop spreading just because a person is undocumented,” Nuño said.
“Since the voters of Phoenix’s west valley chose to elevate her hate and ignorance, her new position has only emboldened her to take every opportunity to disparage an entire ethnicity to drive division,” Sen. Juan Mendez said. Mendez served with Lesko when she was apart of the state legislature. “She is willing to condemn her district and the state to a longer and more ravaging virus just to reaffirm her racism.”
Latinos have had a higher rate of Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths than non-Hispanics in Arizona. Still, they are behind on vaccination rates.
“There are already so many barriers for Latino communities accessing the vaccine,” Mendez said. “But Rep. Lesko seems to be hell-bent on intimidating the Latino community further by encouraging racism in our community.”
To make matters worse, the district Lesko represents is mostly urban and has a significant Latino population, almost 173,000 out of 798,000.
“She will continue to assure the media we are only misconstruing her nativism and white supremacy for racism,” Mendez said. “Unfortunately, Rep. Lesko is only a symptom of a larger epidemic of hate and ignorance.”