In the coming weeks, millions of Americans will receive checks of up to $1,200 to help get them through an unprecedented shutdown of the economy — part of a $2 trillion relief package aimed at softening the economic blow of the coronavirus pandemic and keeping people in their homes.
But undocumented immigrants, one of the country’s most vulnerable communities, will not receive checks or additional healthcare treatment, according to the law signed by President Donald Trump on Friday. Advocates say this exclusion not only leaves many residents without crucial financial support, but also creates an immediate public health risk.
“If they’re cut out of financial relief, they’re going to have to keep coming to work,” said Jackie Vimo, a policy analyst with the National Immigration Law Center. “From a public health point of view, it’s a hazard.”
“The problem,” she added, “is the virus doesn’t discriminate on immigration status.”
The Bay Area’s undocumented immigrant population is estimated to be around 300,000 people, with 35,000 living in San Francisco. There are an estimated 2.7 million undocumented residents in California and around 11 million around the country.
With schools, daycare centers, and small businesses closed in San Francisco, many find themselves out of work and unable to apply for unemployment insurance.
They will also be deprived of the meager $1,200 — plus $500 per child — the U.S. government is putting in the pockets of American citizens in the next three weeks.
To receive a payment, one must have a Social Security Number — or be a resident alien who passes the Internal Revenue Service’s substantial presence test, which excludes undocumented residents.
The package also cuts out families with mixed immigration status. Spouses who jointly file taxes with one partner lacking a Social Security Number will be completely deprived of the $2,400 they would receive as a couple, according to the law. Children must have Social Security Numbers in order to receive their portion of the assistance, which is $500 per child.
This means child citizens will go without aid if one of their parents lacks a Social Security Number.
For now, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA, and Temporary Protected Status recipients can still receive payments — but they should file their tax returns so the IRS has their most recent information, according to Jehan Laner Romero, an immigration attorney with Pangea Legal Services in San Francisco.
The $2 trillion relief package, dubbed the CARES Act, also left out funding for treatment under Medicaid. Although funding was set aside for COVID-19 testing at community health centers, undocumented immigrants will not be able to seek treatment for a severe case without accruing a massive hospital bill, according to Jennifer Quigley, the director of refugee advocacy at Human Rights First.
“If someone tests positive,” Quigley said, the law “doesn’t give money to Medicaid for a hospital stay.”
“If you leave millions of people out of treatment, what’s the point?” she added. “People forget how interconnected we are — it’s not like undocumented people live in one place and documented live in another place.”
It’s unclear how hard House Democratic leadership fought to include undocumented residents. Repeated calls and emails to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office, which represents San Francisco, were not returned.
Without help from the federal government, advocates say local leaders need to act. Diana Flores, director of community engagement and organizing at Dolores Street Community Services, told Mission Local last week that she estimated undocumented households are losing $800 to $1,500 a week during the crisis.
A monthly payment of $3,200 to $4,800 a month would make a big difference for families, she said.
Santiago Lerma, an aide to Supervisor Hillary Ronen, said the Office of Economic and Workforce Development has agreed to give a portion of its $5 million Give2SF Fund to undocumented residents. Lerma said the amount of $400 was discussed on Friday. “We’re waiting to hear back on specifics,” he said. “We believe it should be higher. We’ve heard from advocates that $400 is simply not enough.”
He said Ronen was working with local nonprofits to formulate a financial assistance program — though the amount of funding, and where it will come from, remains unclear.
Supervisor Shamann Walton will be introducing legislation on Tuesday to establish a fund for families who do not qualify for federal and state assistance, including undocumented immigrants. Walton could not give exact figures, as he said specifics still needed to be worked out with the controller’s office. But he noted, for those who lacked federal assistance, “we want to make sure those gaps are mitigated as much as possible.”
Immigrant advocates said the need is clear.
“Many undocumented people are continuing to work and risk their health through this pandemic to provide us with essential needs like our food and sanitation,” Romero, the immigration attorney, said in an email. “The federal government has made their priorities clear in excluding working class individuals.”
“As this pandemic has laid bare, leaving people to fend for themselves, aside from being inhumane, is an unnecessary risk to public health,” she added.
Lariza Dugan-Cuadra, the executive director CARECEN SF, which advocates for migrant families, was equally vexed. She stressed the importance of advocacy on the state and local level.
“We’re going to spend $2 trillion taxpayer dollars on public health, but we’re not gonna include some members of our community?” she said hours after Trump signed the relief package on Friday. “To us, that’s appalling.”
“Any population not included in the relief package,” she added, “is working against the relief package.”
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