Frankie Rivera, 37, is disabled. "I am supporting immigration rights because it's a human right." Photo by Stefania Rouselle.

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.”

Keep our coverage coming. Chip in today. Thank you and stay safe. 

Follow Us

Julian grew up in the East Bay and moved to San Francisco in 2014. Before joining Mission Local, he wrote for the East Bay Express, the SF Bay Guardian, and the San Francisco Business Times.

Join the Conversation


    1. Everyone in the world wants to come America for free education but the education is not free. American property owners are paying property taxes which are paying for schools. No the sale taxes are not going for education. When a person that come to America illegally they are responsible for what they get and not the government. America is a nation of laws. Why pay illegals to break the laws. If they don’t like what happening to them go back to their own countries it is that simple. A lot of them have stolen social security numbers and others are paid under the table. What is going to happen to them when a lot company go under ? When American citizens come first and get jobs that are available. Do you think that illegals are going to gets these jobs? So they are going to food banks that be for American citizens first.

  1. I just want to acknowledge that Frankie Rivera has made his way to the spirit world but I love to see his presence still fighting for a greater cause…always!

    1. Come here legally if you want the benefits associated to being a U.S. citizen. Undocumented is a word used in this state to describe someone who did not get here through the legal process. Yes, some pay federal taxes and that is because their employer has too. Trust me they don’t pay it because they want too. They can go back home and go through the process like all immigrants that came to this country legally. Freedom does not come without responsibilities.

  2. So I, as a tax payer, am not getting the $ because I am above the arbitrary line. But someone who pays no federal income taxes should get the funding for not being here legally? Come on. I get they are in a hard place but the argument makes no sense.

  3. Paul – many undocumented folks pay federal income taxes.

    Undocumented Immigrants do not have S.S. numbers.
    “Instead, they file using what’s known as an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
    The Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington-based think tank, notes that “most experts believe the vast majority of tax returns filed with ITINs today are filed by undocumented immigrants.”
    Some noncitizens who legally immigrated to the United States also pay taxes using this method.
    In 2015, according to the IRS, 4.35 million tax returns were filed using ITINs, accounting for more than $13.6 billion in taxes.”

    1. You are absolutely correct that the US tax payers are not responsible for the people who have violated our laws and don’t have any rights here. They made a choice to be an illegal immigrant and want legal benefits. The US is not responsible for then and our system can’t stay solvent with trying to help them. Go home and ask your countries tax payers to support you.
      Another bad choice for which WE are not responsible is for ones who have paid income tax using another’s ID. Tough. Breaking the law is NOT to be rewarded.

      1. People amaze me. Supporting illegal Aliens not immigrants hurts legal immigrants. While people wait to come the proper way others shun our laws and demand to be supported. If I were to go to Mexico as an illegal Alien it is a felony. Period. Look it up. No Nation can survive with unchecked immigration. Europe is a mess from open borders and continues to decline. We are all just people wanting a better life; alas there is no better life with unchecked immigration. Before you say I am racist or any stupid go to catch phrases…my mother and brother are legal immigrants and have done so the legal way. Helping illegal aliens hurts legal immigrants in the long run and encourages increasing decline of economic and living standards here and within their home nations. The nations need to work together to increase the living standards and economies in all nations rather than have a few nations support declining standards globally. Improve the national economies globally and their will be no need for illegal Aliens. No single nation can take on the burden of the poor and destitute of the nations globally and survive. Living and economic development for the poorest nations should be the goal rather than assimilation of the poor into the richer nations.

      2. But the fruits that we eat fresh are picked from illegal aliens no medical working hard regardless this makes me sick we’re dying and we are United’ States we need each other what the hell

    2. To add, they don’t get to use it even though many of them do pay taxes. Even being born here, working for decades, to get help if I ever need it has so many road blocks, I dont see how people think illegal immigrants suck the system dry.

      That’s the level of peoples education and or hatred for others I guess. Its laughable until it’s not, it’s not today it’s just sad. Think again on who’s wasting your tax dollars. Being an illegal isnt a choice, it’s a label we put on them, and there are many reasons why they might be here.

      Dic, try looking into your parties ability to bus illegals over the boarder in order to bring workers over legally, all for
      cheaper labor for farming. Responsibility isnt the job of you nor any of us. It has nothing to do with responsibility, it’s called being human and understanding the truth behind the fact. It’s called compassion. We were the strongest, wealthiest nation, the chump change that any illegal got from our nation doesn’t stand a piss in the wind to the amounts wasted on that call to arms of the right. I laugh at you scumbags. I dont get how one falls victim to this bs. Though there you are…driving your stupid with hate, good luck with that .. Sorry your critical thinking ability is blinded by stupidity, and you dont see the meaning to this article. You’re probably one of those who think we should just ” ride this thing out,” the biggest reason so many have died from this virus, containment wasnt a word we heard, the first was “midigation,” it’s that ride it out statement that has your answer.

      Stay safe.

    3. You should learn how to write better and get educated about illegal immigrants before you open your mouth to say things you don’t know. Not every illegal immigrant is a criminal or is stealing just like not all the “Americans” are rapists, racist and drug addicts. People like you really need to stop generalizing on others and learn the reason of why they came from their countries in the first place. Just so you know a lot of illegal immigrants pay taxes too.

  4. In the USA you need a social security card. If undocumented immigrants come to America then they should follow the rules to become American citizens. We law abiding Americans are tired of our hard working money going to immigrants. Enough is enough!

    1. Everyone and anyone who thinks illegal immigrants are sucking the life out of America need to do some research. Most illegal immigrants DO file and pay their taxes, they use an ITIN number. Plus There are plenty of large corporations and American citizens who do not pay there taxes and earn more then you or i will in a lifetime ? .

Leave a comment
Please keep your comments short and civil. We will zap comments that fail to adhere to these short and very easy-to-follow rules.

Your email address will not be published.