House Democrats’ $ 3 trillion coronavirus aid package is intended to address a number of people who were left behind on previous accounts, including unauthorized immigrants who criticized the US response to the pandemic but were not eligible for it incentive funds.
The bill, known as the Heroes Act, would protect unauthorized immigrants working in key areas from deportation, make them eligible for federal stimulus funds, and pave the way for more foreign health workers to help fight the corona virus in the U.S. It would also bring additional health benefits to immigrants who are eligible for Medicaid and would require immigration services to free people from immigration detention wherever possible.
The bill is making significant progress to close the gap in the reception of immigrant communities during the pandemic. But it contains a notable omission: it does not assist refugees at a time when resettlement efforts have stalled and refugees who have recently arrived in the U.S. are not eligible for federal stimulus checks.
The bill will face opposition within both parties. Republicans are not convinced that any other aid package is justified after the $ 2.2 trillion CARES law was signed in late March, and progressive Democrats are pushing for even more aid. The bill is therefore unlikely to be passed by Parliament, but House president Nancy Pelosi still plans to move ahead with a vote on Friday, according to Politically. Even if it fails, it can be a starting point for future negotiations on coronavirus relief.
Here are five provisions that the bill for immigrants contains:
1) Cash payments to immigrants and their families
The bill would issue coronavirus stimulus checks to unauthorized immigrants and their families, who are currently excluded from such relief under the CARES Act. They would be eligible for the first round of stimulus controls launched by the government to send in April, as well as a proposed second round of checks, which would go up to $ 1,200 for each tax collector and each of their dependents, depending on family income.
CARES law gave the most taxpayers up to $ 1,200 and $ 500 for each of their children under 17. However, even if they pay taxes, unauthorized immigrants are not eligible for the stimulus checks. Nor is there anyone else in their household, including their husbands and children, even if their husbands and children are U.S. citizens.
The CARES law excludes it in households with people of mixed immigration status, where some taxpayers or their children may use a so-called Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). An estimated 16.7 million people live nationally in mixed-status households, including 8.2 million US-born or naturalized citizens.
The IRS issues ITINs to unauthorized immigrants so they can pay taxes even if they don’t have a Social Security number. If someone in the household uses an ITIN – a spouse or a dependent child – no one in the household is eligible for the stimulus checks unless one spouse served in the military in 2019.
Groups of immigrant interest groups have challenged CARES law on the grounds that it wrongfully discriminates against US citizens who have unauthorized immigrants.
2) Release of low-risk immigrants from ICE detention
The bill would require U.S. immigration and customs enforcement to go through all files of detained immigrants and release all those who are not subject to mandatory detention and who do not pose a risk to public or national security. Alternatively, the agency could investigate relatively low costs alternatives for keeping immigrants in detention.
This may include requiring them to wear ankle strap monitors or enter them into programs such as the now defunct Obama-era Family Case Management program. Under that program, which Trump ended in June 2017, families were released and assigned to social workers who helped them find lawyers and housing and made them turn up for their court hearings.
The bill also sets new standards for immigration detention. Detainees should receive free and unlimited soap, as well as telephone and video calls, so that they can communicate with their family members and lawyers, who are not allowed to visit most detention centers in person during the pandemic.
Only after a protest from immigrant lawyers, ICE recently came national policies encouraging social distance in its facilities and providing soap, hand sanitizer, cleaning products and personal protective equipment. The agency has also released detainees who are medically vulnerable to Covid-19, but there are still almost a few 30,000 immigrants in custody in more than 130 private and state-run detention centers across the country. As of May 14, there were 943 prisoners tested positive for the virus.
There is therefore a national plea for the government to change its enforcement priorities to release all detainees or at least those who have not committed serious crimes; while immigrant advocates campaign for their release, even in the best of times, their message has become even more urgent during the outbreak.
These immigrants have been charged with violations of civilian immigration, such as staying long visas or staying in the US without permission, and have been arrested while awaiting the outcome of their deportations. Some may eventually remain in the US, depending on what an immigration judge decides.
The federal government has a significant discretion to determine who subjects it to this type of civil detention. Towards the end of Barack Obama’s presidency, he prioritized only those immigrants who had a record of committing serious crimes, releasing others into the interior of the US. But President Donald Trump, on the other hand, has tried to stop unauthorized immigrants from all over the US, even during the pandemic.
3) Protect essential workers from deportation and provide opportunities for some unauthorized immigrants
Under the bill, essential workers would be protected from deportation and would receive work permits during the pandemic, and employers in critical industries would not be penalized for hiring unauthorized immigrants.
Americans relied on low-paid workers to run essential services during the pandemic, from harvesting and delivering food to cleaning public areas. But many of these workers with no legal immigration status have done so without financial support from the federal government.
Unauthorized immigrants make about one quarter of farm workers and 8 percent of the service sector and production workers. Many have no choice but to continue working, despite public health warnings, to stay at home because they are not eligible for unemployment benefits or federal stimulus checks. The Heroes Act would in any case give them a financial safety net and relieve them for fear of deportation.
4) Making it easier for foreign medical professionals to fight the coronavirus
The bill would speed up the processing of visas and green cards for medical professionals. Anyone who wants to practice medicine, do medical research or receive education or training to fight Covid-19 can be approved for a visa on an accelerated basis. Consulates closed to regular affairs abroad should conduct visa interviews through teleconferences or make an emergency visa appointment in person. Foreign doctors who have already completed residency programs in the United States can also receive green cards more quickly.
Once approved for a visa or green card, medical professionals have more flexibility to go where they are required by law. Those with an H-1B visa for skilled workers could be transferred to other hospital systems and offer telemedicine services without having to apply for a new visa under the account. Medical students will also be able to transfer their rotations within their host institution and may be compensated for their work during the pandemic. They could also work outside of that approved program when it comes to fighting Covid-19.
Foreign doctors have long been hampered in practice in the US. Despite being willing to contribute to the country’s coronavirus response, many have been unable to do so, also because they have been excluded from the U.S. residency programs or because the immigration system is in the way.
Hospitals across the country are facing staff shortages. New York City has asked former medical workers who retire to deal with the increased patient burden. This also applies to the Veterans Affairs medical system, which already has around 44,000 medical vacancies that have struggled to fill in a competitive market. Washington DC has even been recruit volunteers without any medical training.
The US is expected to be short of doctors even before the pandemic: the Association of American Medical Colleges estimated the deficit could rise to 46,900 to 121,900 physicians by 2032. And in rural areas, especially in states like Mississippi and Arkansas, doctors were already in small stock. The US health system depends heavily on on immigrants, who make up 17 percent of all health workers and more than one in four doctors.
5) Health benefits for immigrants, regardless of their status
The bill would allow unauthorized immigrants without health care coverage to receive free testing, treatment and vaccines related to coronavirus.
Under the CARES Act, several categories of immigrants are excluded from such benefits: green card holders who have lived in the U.S. for less than five years, immigrants who have obtained temporary protected status, and young, unauthorized immigrants who have been granted permission to live, and work in the US under the Delayed Arrival Program for Children.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it will not consider the use of free testing services when assessing whether immigrants are likely to rely on public benefits under the “public indictment“ rule, which entered into force in February. That rule gives immigration officials much more leeway to reject those who apply to enter the US, renew their visas, or turn their temporary immigration status into a green card if they are believed to be likely now or in the future will use public services.
The agency also said the rule will not weigh Covid-19 treatment or preventative care, such as a vaccine when it is eventually developed, even if those services are covered by Medicaid.