The $2 trillion emergency relief bill moving through Congress is designed to cushion the effects of the steep economic downturn caused by the pandemic — but provides little relief for immigrants.
The legislation, which provides one-time cash payments to low- and middle-income households, excludes immigrants in the country illegally as well as children who are U.S. citizens but have at least one parent who is undocumented.
Immigrant advocates also say the bill doesn't provide sufficient access to coronavirus testing and treatment to some immigrants who are here legally.
Many of those immigrants work in the health care field, said Steven Choi, the director of the New York Immigration Coalition. "The people who are on the front lines fighting back against this insidious COVID-19 pandemic are the very ones who are being excluded from relief," he said.
The Senate bill sets aside $250 billion for direct cash assistance checks. But in order to qualify, immigrant advocates point out, recipients have to use a Social Security number to pay their taxes. That excludes undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families, even those that pay taxes in the U.S.
"It's harmful for the families that are like me," said Lesley Rodriguez, who comes from a mixed-status family in New York. Rodriguez and her siblings are U.S. citizens, but her parents are undocumented. "It's unfair for the people that are on the front lines, the delivery workers and the people in the supermarkets who also have kids and have to pay bills."
The Senate passed the relief package today, and final passage in the House is expected Friday.
Immigrant advocates and public health experts had urged lawmakers to expand access to federal health care subsidies to immigrants who are protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status programs as well as recent immigrants who have gotten their green cards in the past five years.
But the Senate bill does not lift existing restrictions on federal Medicaid dollars. Many Republicans argue that providing these benefits gives people and incentive to immigrate here illegally.
Tyler Moran with the Immigration Hub, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., said "there is no rhyme or reason why anyone should be excluded from a solution to combat a pandemic." She added: "Ensuring these workers and families are part of a comprehensive solution against this outbreak isn't just the right thing to do, but a public health requirement."