A man in New York City picks up an item at the grocery store during the coronavirus pandemic. Catholic News Service columnist Moises Sandoval writes about the hardships undocumented immigrants are facing while living in the U.S. during the pandemic. CNS photo/Caitlin Ochs, Reuters
A man in New York City picks up an item at the grocery store during the coronavirus pandemic. Catholic News Service columnist Moises Sandoval writes about the hardships undocumented immigrants are facing while living in the U.S. during the pandemic. CNS photo/Caitlin Ochs, Reuters
Three times in my lifetime the United States has suffered a surprise attack for which it was woefully unprepared. The first was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941; the second, the 9/11 suicide bombings of the World Trade Center in New York City; the third, the pandemic of 2020.

The first two are history and thus best left to the historians, but the third we are living now, an all-consuming concern. The reckoning about unpreparedness can wait; we have more urgent tasks now.

I awaken at night thinking of a grandson, one of the 38 million unemployed. I need to contact him, send a check to buy food. I make a mental note to send something to the parish too. And to the Salvation Army. The needs are endless.

Morning comes and with it my first thought: Do I have a fever or a cough? I look across at my sleeping wife and, if everything seems fine, silently say a prayer of thanks.

Later, I read in the morning paper about a senior like myself waking up with a blinding headache, going to a hospital and dying days later. Another prayer. Now even our perspective of time has changed. August and September seem so far away; will we be here then?

As a saying goes, a general prepares to fight the last war, the only one he knows. President Donald Trump placed his bet on a "beautiful" border wall, no match for the virus. It came aboard planes from Asia and Europe, landing in New York, Seattle, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Now the glib talk about the economy roaring back seems empty. Many of the jobs recently lost are not coming back. My son Jim, vice president and treasurer of Marathon Oil Corporation, tells me 25 percent of his department has been permanently furloughed. Businesses are going bankrupt. The times demand inspiring leadership, uniting all in common cause regardless of color or creed. We do not have it. Recovery may take a generation.

Undocumented immigrants play an outsize role in the economy, essential workers in processing meat in slaughterhouses; planting, hoeing and harvesting crops; stocking shelves in our groceries, serving as home health aides, cleaning our hospitals and many other unsung, low-paid tasks.

Scarcely a year ago, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was arresting and deporting hundreds of chicken processing plant workers in Mississippi. Now the president has invoked the Defense Production Act to force them to work.

Yet, the undocumented were left out of the federal stimulus package and unemployment compensation. Both Republican and Democrat legislators lacked the courage and compassion to include them. Worse, in mixed-status families where only one member was undocumented, all were excluded. Only California has set up an emergency fund with public and private funds to aid them, $500 for each adult.

Connecticut has an estimated 120,000 undocumented immigrants who, according to Kica Matos, director of the Center on Immigration and Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice, pay an estimated $124 million in state and local taxes annually. Yet they are all excluded from all economic relief, according to Matos.

Edith Carapia, one of the many essential workers infected by COVID-19, appealed to Gov. Ned Lamont from her hospital bed, according to The Hartford Courant: "Immigrants are essential workers. ... We urgently need your help. It's time you do something for us. Put yourself in our shoes. Think about us and help us." No response.

Matos quotes Martin Luther King Jr., who said 55 years ago: "The time is always right to do what is right." That is what we have to do to defeat the virus.