Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Community Members Are Being Left Behind

Millions of immigrants will have to fend for themselves during the COVID-19 crisis

We’ve received two calls in the last week from immigrants with questions about how their legal status will affect them during this COVID-19 crisis. 

The first was a DACA student about to graduate from Washington State University. She was laid off from her part time job, and her internship working with little kids was cancelled. She is worried about getting enough credits to graduate, and how she will pay next month’s rent. 

The second was from a newly permanent resident (he holds a green card) wondering if he and his wife will qualify for the $1,200 federal stimulus payments. Both husband and wife are working remotely, but one has reduced hours. 

These folks are lucky because they fall within the security blanket Washington and the federal government have cobbled together to keep the economy from collapsing. Programs like unemployment insurance, paid family and medical leave, paid sick days, the one-time grants to families, and the various government loans and grants for small businesses to keep workers employed, give many workers hope that they may get through this crisis. 

There are millions of other workers who will have to fend for themselves during the COVID-19 crisis. These are workers who make important contributions to our economy, but are in the shadows due to immigration status. According to America’s Voice Education Fund, undocumented immigrants in the U.S. contribute $27.2 billion in taxes that help support our schools, roads, and other public services like Social Security and Medicaid, to which they are denied access.

You may know these workers as the teacher at your child’s child care, the guy washing dishes at your favorite restaurant, the men working construction down the street, or the family picking fruits and vegetables so that we can access healthy food. These are the people who will fare the worst during the Coronavirus crisis. 

Congress passed the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27. Although this bill provides a number of important protections for many Americans, it also allows immigrant workers and their families to fall through the cracks on issues of healthcare, social safety, labor standards, and economic security.

The CARES act offers free COVID-19 testing through Medicaid, but does not expand Medicaid eligibility. Moreover, despite federal policies which recognize spaces like healthcare centers as “sensitive,” none of the COVID-19 relief bills explicitly prohibits U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from engaging in enforcement actions in them. ICE officials have continued to conduct enforcement, creating a safety issue that denies immigrants fair access to healthcare services.

The CARES Act also greatly expanded unemployment insurance to cover many people who lose work due to COVID-19, but workers must have valid work authorization, making undocumented immigrants ineligible. To qualify for those $1,200 payments to individuals and $2,400 for couples, people must have a Social Security number, which excludes many immigrants and mixed-immigration-status families. 

Immigrant rights advocates are getting to work, developing systems and programs to ensure that no one goes hungry and homeless. Various organizations such as the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network, NW Immigrant’s Rights Project, OneAmerica, and the National Immigrant Law Center are engaging traditional and nontraditional ways of helping families directly. These include GoFundMe Campaigns, COVID-19 Q & A for immigrants, Emergency Relief Funds, and much more. One particular advocates group is also asking Washington’s governor and legislators to create a fund to help undocumented workers. 

In the meantime, if you know of someone who does not qualify for any of the programs mentioned due to the immigration status, you can refer them to this fund. It’s a place to start. 

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