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Coronavirus responses should include all our neighbors, including immigrants

Abimael Chavez-Hernandez and Clark Goldenrod
Apr 23, 2020
As our country, state, and communities collectively work to slow the spread of coronavirus, we’ve called for inclusive policy responses. Policymakers have enacted measures to mitigate the public health and economic implications of the virus, but too often members of our communities have been left out because of their immigration status.  

Excluding immigrant Minnesotans – who make up close to 9 percent of our state’s population – puts them and their families at risk, and it makes it more difficult for our state and communities to recover from this public health crisis. 

Immigrants – both documented and not – are essential workers and contributors to fighting the COVID crisis. Immigrants are working in key industries like food production, retail, transportation, and health care, that we are all counting on to get through this public health emergency. Additionally, many immigrants, working in industries that have been significantly impacted by coronavirus like hospitality and food service, are also struggling and many are out of work. 

But despite their important contributions and roles in our community and workforce, our immigrant neighbors have been left out from many of the most significant policy responses to the coronavirus:  
  • The recent “stimulus checks” included in the federal CARES Act will not go to any households in which a family member uses an ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number). This policy even leaves out families with U.S. citizen children. As a result, immigrant taxpayers will go without a crucial support available to many of their neighbors. 
  • Undocumented workers are not eligible for unemployment insurance (UI), so these workers will not benefit from the recent improvements to UI. Undocumented workers are a crucial part of our economy, but they will not get this support to help afford basic necessities during this uncertain time.  
  • Many immigrants continue to be excluded from critical health care services, putting these members of our communities at risk of financial and physical harm. For example, the federal CARES Act excluded undocumented immigrants from its expanded access to free coronavirus testing and treatment. Immigrants are more likely to face financial barriers to accessing the critical health care testing and treatment needed to keep themselves and their communities safe. Immigrants are three times more likely to be uninsured than U.S.-born Minnesotans, and some estimates show that nationally as many as half of undocumented immigrants are uninsured. 
Federal policymakers should act to fill in these gaps – ensuring that families using ITINs are eligible for the current recovery rebates and any future stimulus payments; making undocumented workers eligible for Unemployment Insurance; and ensuring that everyone has access to the health care they need. 

Further, the Trump administration should stop creating additional barriers keeping families from being able to get the help they need to put a roof over their heads, access health care, or buy groceries to feed growing kids. But that’s exactly what happened earlier this year when the Trump administration implemented a new rule about “public charge” that makes it more difficult for immigrants to gain legal status or finish their family unification if they access certain kinds of assistance. The administration should stop enforcing their public charge rules, which are especially cruel rule now in a time of a global pandemic.  

At the state level, needed steps to ensure a comprehensive response include: 
  • Ensuring that essential health care information and information about income supports and other policy action related to COVID be available in multiple languages.  
  • Ensuring everyone can access the health care services they need, and that testing and treatment related to COVID is available with no out-of-pocket costs. 
  • Taking steps to fill in the gaps when federal economic supports for small businesses, workers, and families are not available to immigrant communities. 
Ensuring all Minnesotans, regardless of immigration status, have access to health and economic supports is essential to building up healthy communities and easing the worst impacts of the unfolding recession.