How COVID-19 is Affecting Immigrants in America.
While most Americans and American communities have been hit by the coronavirus, there are certain communities that have, simply put, been hit harder. One of these communities is the immigrant population in the United States.
COVID-19 has seen unemployment skyrocket. The Migration Policy Institute reported that although immigrants only make up 17% of the civilian workforce, 20% of workers in industries currently facing layoffs are immigrants. Immigrants are facing higher rates of unemployment, and yet are not receiving the same aid as others in the United States.
In fact, immigrants without a social security number are unable to collect any of the resources offered by the $2.2 trillion package that Congress approved earlier this month. Not only are immigrants not qualified to receive these benefits, but the US government has extended this limitation to US citizens married to immigrants as well. Americans married to immigrants without social security numbers will be blocked from receiving any stimulus funds, affecting an estimated 1.2 million married couples in the US. These are legal, tax-paying residents of America, who contribute to the economy. However, if they, or any other US immigrant without a Green Card, such as the 2.3 million immigrants in the US who are on temporary working visas, are not eligible for aid, even though they are just as affected, if not more, by the economic collapse surrounding COVID-19.
Another vulnerable community to consider during this time are the tens of thousands of immigrants being held in ICE detention centers. ICE detention shelters have been inhumane since inception, and these conditions have only worsened during a highly contagious coronavirus pandemic. Just as in US prisons, people are being held against their will in close quarters, with no way to protect themselves from the transmission of COVID-19. They often have no ability to see a doctor if they are feeling unwell, and there is not adequate social distancing or sanitizing taking place in any of these facilities. One woman, being held in a South Louisiana detention facility, reported there are just five bars of soap to be shared between the seventy detainees in her dorm. 60% of detainees in ICE custody have no criminal record and are only being detained over a civil immigration violation.
On top of this, ICE requested 45,000 N95 masks before withdrawing their request due to backlash, and have continued to detain people even in states under lockdown. It would seem to me that continuing to detain people who have not broken the law, or have only a civil immigration violation, would not be considered an essential pursuit during this time, and instead these resources should be redistributed to help people during this crisis. 31,000 people are currently being held in ICE detention centers, and as of Thursday, April 23rd, 297 of these people, as well as 35 ICE employees have tested positive for COVID-19. It is estimated this number is actually higher, due to lack of testing and underreporting suspected in some facilities.
In policy related to this issue, a federal judge in California ordered that a Los Angeles detention center must reduce its number of detainees to such a level that a six-feet social distancing can be achievable at all times. The facility claims to have released 160 detainees since March 30 deemed vulnerable to COVID-19, and has limited intake of new detainees. California has also approved a plan that will give 150,000 undocumented immigrants a stipend of $500, with a cap of $1000 per household. $75 million of this will come from a disaster relief fund, while charities have offered to raise the remaining $50 million. New York Governor Cuomo will not commit to such a plan due to “lack of budget”, but New York City Mayor DeBlasio announced a $20 million dollar plan to give to 20,000 undocumented immigrants in NYC. Individuals will receive $400, married couples or single parents with children $800, and married couples with children $1000. Both of these stipends are notably lower than the stipend received by US citizens, averaging $1,200 per individual, and $2,400 for married couples.
The immigrant population in the United States has a history of being taken advantage of and seen as less deserving of resources and rights. During this pandemic, this trend has only continued. The US Government is not providing equal aid to immigrant populations, some of the most affected communities currently. However, it is important to also recognize how grassroots activists have been stepping up to the occasion, I’ve linked some of the incredible work these activists are doing for immigrant communities, as well as other disproportionately affected communities, here.