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How COVID-19 is impacting undocumented immigrants in America

  • How COVID-19 is impacting undocumented immigrants in America

    When the pandemic hit the United States, the government took action to protect citizens and offer relief from some of its effects. The federal government placed restrictions on border crossings to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. It created a $2 trillion relief package to provide $1,200 stimulus checks to adults, plus another $500 for each child under 16 in their household. It provided states with funding for extra unemployment benefits to the millions of people who had been laid off from work. And it required employers to guarantee paid sick leave to employees who were quarantined, experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, or needed to care for a child while their school or child care facility was closed during the pandemic.

    While these measures certainly helped many, they were not extended to another very large group of people in the country: undocumented immigrants. Government-sponsored benefits, like unemployment insurance, financial aid, and medical care, typically exclude the estimated 10.5 million undocumented immigrants living in the country. This situation can make it tough to get by in normal times, but during a pandemic, a lack of benefits and protection can become life-threatening.

    Furthermore, undocumented immigrants have also faced an additional layer of problems from enforcement agencies and at detention facilities. Some have been too afraid of being arrested to seek a coronavirus test, instead suffering symptoms at home and unwittingly spreading the infection to those around them. Others, who have been detained, have been subjected to unsanitary conditions and harsh punishments for organizing at facilities across the country.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the lives of undocumented immigrants, though. Stacker used news briefs, government reports, and data from independent research groups to compile a list of 50 ways COVID-19 is impacting undocumented immigrants in America.

    This list covers several different areas of immigration, including benefits, health care, jobs, travel, detention centers, immigration status proceedings, government policies, cases of COVID-19 at detention facilities, and access to care and resources. These impacts have been prevalent in different ways between March and June.

    Click through to learn how undocumented immigrants in the United States have been impacted by COVID-19.

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  • Undocumented immigrants face difficulty accessing COVID-19 tests

    While the Affordable Care Act has helped put health care within reach for growing numbers of Americans since it was signed into law in 2010, the same can’t be said for undocumented immigrants, who are excluded from the act. A May report in The New England Journal of Medicine warns the estimated 7.1 million undocumented immigrants who don’t have health insurance may not be able to access COVID-19 tests and treatment due to costs.

  • Economic relief package doesn’t help undocumented immigrants

    Widespread job losses have put both American citizens and undocumented immigrants in financial distress during the pandemic. While the federal government’s economic relief package provided some help, most undocumented immigrants were excluded from the direct cash distributions, even though they may have paid taxes, according to The New England Journal of Medicine. A lack of funds could make it difficult for them to feed their families, pay their rent, and get back on their feet.

  • 6 million immigrants are essential workers

    An estimated 6 million immigrants, a statistic that doesn’t make a distinction between documented and undocumented immigrants, have served as essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis, keeping residents of the United States healthy and fed, according to the Migration Policy Institute. In fact, undocumented workers play an important role in the health care industry in occupations like home health aids, housekeepers and cleaners, and personal care aids, according to the New American Economy Research Fund. Some undocumented immigrants who work in essential jobs have not received personal protective equipment from their employers, according to Lissandra Villa of Time magazine.

  • 6 million immigrants work in industries hit hardest by COVID-19

    Immigrant workers are overrepresented in industries that have suffered mass layoffs during the pandemic, according to the Migration Policy Institute. It estimates that 6 million immigrants, a statistic that doesn’t make a distinction between documented and undocumented immigrants, comprise high shares of workers in fields like manufacturing, agriculture, transportation—all of which have faced financial difficulties related to COVID-19.

  • COVID-19 treatment and testing are not available under emergency Medicaid

    Tens of millions of people, many of whom are undocumented immigrants, were excluded from free COVID-19 testing and treatment that had become available through the Families First Act because it did not make those services available through emergency Medicaid, according to Lissandra Villa of Time magazine. However, the economic relief package did provide funding for coronavirus testing at community health centers that do provide health care for undocumented immigrants.


  • Undocumented immigrants avoid COVID-19 test out of fear of deportation

    To help encourage people with COVID-19 symptoms to seek care, President Trump announced in March that undocumented immigrants can access coronavirus tests “without fear of arrest or deportation,” according to Brett Samuels of The Hill. However, Usha Lee McFarling of Stat found in mid-April that the president’s statements have not put undocumented immigrants at ease, and many high-risk people are still avoiding the test out of concern they’ll be deported.

  • ICE postpones arrests of many undocumented immigrants

    U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced in mid-March that it would postpone most arrests during the pandemic, according to Vanessa Romo of NPR. The agency said it would only continue pursuing people who met certain criteria, like those who are putting public safety in jeopardy or people who are “subject to mandatory detention on criminal grounds.”

  • COVID-19 tests don’t count against Public Charge rule

    U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued new guidance in March that treatment and preventive services for COVID-19 will not count against immigrants applying for certain statuses under the Public Charge rule. However, the rule, which requires applications for green cards and temporary visas to be denied if the person is likely to require public assistance, has made immigrants less likely to access essential benefits like the supplemental nutrition assistance program, according to a June report from the Urban Institute.

  • Bond hearings for detained immigrants were either canceled or postponed

    With many courtrooms closed during the pandemic, undocumented immigrants have had their bond hearings canceled or postponed with no new date on the calendar, according to Allyssa M.G. Scheyer of Jurist. That has left countless immigrants in overcrowded detention cells and without the protections of due process.

  • Courts hold virtual asylum hearings for immigrant children

    Unaccompanied, undocumented minors who are facing deportation have been going through asylum hearings through video, rather than in person, in a Houston pilot program during the pandemic. These proceedings have had technical difficulties and been criticized by some immigration attorneys as lacking due process, according to Cat Cardenas of Texas Monthly.


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