LOS ANGELES – Congressmember Debbie Lesko (AZ -08) recently said that while Latinos are “good workers,” COVID-19 vaccinations should go first to “American citizens” before “people who are here illegally.” Her remarks were made in a U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee meeting during a discussion of a proposed amendment to a COVID-19 relief bill to prioritize citizens for vaccines. Lesko’s statement also came just days before the U.S. marked 500,000 COVID-19 deaths.
Please attribute the following statement in response to Lesko’s comments to Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund):
“MALDEF calls for Rep. Debbie Lesko to resign her seat in the House of Representatives. Her recent remarks reflect an astounding, acquired ignorance of the people in her district; they also demonstrate a willingness to engage in false bias and stereotype in order to demonize people who have been on the frontlines nationally in confronting the devastating impacts of COVID-19.
“According to the most recent Census Bureau estimates, over 20 percent of Rep. Lesko’s constituents are Latino; moreover, over 90 percent of those Latino constituents are United States citizens. Yet, she felt it appropriate to conflate ‘Hispanic’ with ‘undocumented’ in an appalling display of the worst impulses of reductionist racial stereotyping.
“In addition, Rep. Lesko’s suggestion that ‘good workers’ should nonetheless be denied vaccination is simply a coded acceptance of the exploitation of Latino and immigrant workers that underlies too much of our formal and informal economy in this country. Of all racial/ethnic groups in the nation, Latinos have sustained the greatest personal and family impact of the pandemic; worker exploitation that involves the denial of life-saving inoculation is dehumanizing and cruel.
“Finally, Rep. Lesko’s remarks, which she has refused to retract, traffic in contemporary dog-whistle racism. After four years of Donald Trump and his transparent white nationalism, the nation should recognize that ‘citizen first’ policies are simply thinly-veiled pleas for perpetuating white privilege grounded in racism.
“Arizona deserves better representation in the Congress than that provided by Rep. Debbie Lesko, purveyor of blatant stereotyping and dog-whistle racism. She should resign in favor of someone who will speak for all Arizonans.”