These are difficult times for everyone. But immigrant communities are facing particularly severe risk and hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Immigrants constitute a large part of the essential workers population, and because many are employed in industries heavily affected by COVID-19, immigrant families have been economically devastated. Congress must do more to ensure that everyone is protected during this crisis, regardless of immigration status.
Any congressional response that excludes immigrants from protection is an abdication of our moral responsibility.
Congress approved a third COVID-19 relief package in late March, the CARES Act (H.R. 748). But this massive bill excluded many immigrants from accessing bare protections against the pandemic and missed the mark on many of FCNL’s key principles.
Any congressional response to COVID-19 that excludes immigrants from protection is an abdication of our moral responsibility. The following must be included in any ensuing legislation:
1. Release vulnerable and non-essential detainees from detention, and end immigration enforcement activities during the pandemic.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) are not qualified to care for individuals, especially during a health global crisis. A response to COVID-19 which increases funding for enforcement and detention would only hurt immigrant communities and threaten public health and safety.
Upcoming bills must follow the guidance of public health experts. This means releasing vulnerable and non-essential detainees,ending enforcement activities, and including strong guardrails to any additional funds for DHS. This crisis has highlighted our need to pivot to an immigration policy that prioritizes family unification and moves away from detention.
2. Enable immigrants to access free testing and treatment for COVID-19.
Preventing immigrants from accessing treatment for COVID-19 because of their immigration status is immoral from a faith perspective and bad policy from a public health perspective. We urge Congress to ensure that everyone, regardless of immigration status, can access free testing and treatment. Congress must qualify COVID-19 care as an emergency service for Medicaid and increase funding to states for health care to ensure immigrant communities are eligible.
3. Enable individuals with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to claim stimulus checks.
Immigrants are fully participating members of communities, but many are excluded from federal assistance. Under the CARES Act, mixed status families cannot receive rebate checks even if just one person in the family lacks a social security number. This assistance is vital in helping families put food on the table. We call on Congress to include families and individuals with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) in accessing stimulus checks.
Congressional action must not stop until a comprehensive and inclusive deal is reached. We applaud the House efforts to ensure that all are protected in an upcoming stimulus package, but now the Senate must do its part. This crisis is not a green light for cruel policies. We must uphold our legal obligations to refugees, ensure the well-being of all including unaccompanied children and halt all unessential enforcement actives and detention.