The recent pandemic has not only sent medical experts and doctors scrambling to find solutions, but has also hit undocumented immigrants in the U.S. with overwhelming burden. During this pandemic, it is crucial that the federal government implement measures to protect undocumented immigrants.
As of 2019, undocumented immigrants primarily work within the fields of agriculture, construction, production, service jobs and transportation. Despite efforts to contain the virus, many occupations remain open. In the sectors of agriculture, construction, manufacturing and transportation, many individuals are required to show up to work. However, the lack of protection for workers, such as paid sick leave, forces them to work in dangerous conditions that could increase their exposure to the virus.
Conversely, the recent and rapid spread of COVID-19 has caused many businesses to close. Service jobs in the restaurant industry leaves many, including undocumented immigrants, with even more unstable financial situations.
Making matters worse, unlike documented people, most undocumented immigrants are unable to file for unemployment as the unemployment application asks an individual to identify their citizenship status, making those individuals more susceptible to arrest by U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement. As a result, undocumented immigrants receive either no benefits or delayed benefits — crucial for paying for rent and groceries.
This crisis also amplifies burdens for undocumented immigrants as they try to maintain their health. On March 18, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which claims to guarantee free COVID-19 testing. However, in reality, individuals could end up with surprise bills after they are tested for the virus — with no financial relief. For an insured patient, treatment could cost up to $9,763 without complications and $20,292 with complications. For individuals without insurance, it’s even more detrimental.
Now what does this mean for undocumented immigrants? As of 2019, 45% of undocumented immigrants were uninsured, meaning even if undocumented immigrants were to overcome their fear of going to the hospital, they would still encounter expensive medical bills on top of the bills they’re already struggling to pay.
A survey conducted in California found that out of 500 undocumented immigrants, 95% reported they were concerned about paying their bills and 89% stated their worry over losing their jobs, while only 73% stated they were nervous about the virus.
Even more disappointing, despite priding himself on his Italian heritage and even referring to himself as “undocumented,” New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has yet to implement legislation surrounding COVID-19 that benefits undocumented immigrants — unless you count his directive that makes insurances companies cover the cost of testing. Fortunately, there remain two low-cost health care centers in the state of New York that can assist undocumented immigrants — but in the midst of a pandemic, two is not enough.
The federal government should create more policies to provide security for the undocumented. One option would include supporting and working with immigrant agencies, like Informed Immigrant and Organized Communities Against Deportations, which provide financial and emotional support. Moreover, with support from local and state governments, these organizations could help undocumented immigrants sign up for health insurance and provide a financial and emotional support system.
Further, Congress needs to expand the categories for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act as well, which covers additional aid towards SNAP food stamps, and medicare — all of which fail to include undocumented immigrants. Additionally, they need to adjust their policy on free testing to eliminate possible loopholes that require an individual to pay. By doing so, they would take steps to reduce challenges — heightened due to the virus — routinely experienced by undocumented immigrants.
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Email Gabby Lozano at [email protected]