IMMIGRATION MONTHLY UPDATE — May 2020
The coronavirus has obviously impacted all of us, but America’s most vulnerable and marginalized populations have borne — and continue to bear — a far heavier and more lethal burden. Nowhere has our failed social contract been more obviously revealed than in the shocking racial disparities in mortality and infection rates. Residents of majority-Black counties have three times the infection rate and almost six times the death rate as residents of majority-white counties. The data is similarly devastating when mapping the virus’ impact on Latinx communities: in New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Utah, Latinos make up 13 to 19% of the population but account for 30 to 38% of Covid-19 cases. In Maryland, Illinois, Washington, D.C., and other places, the Latinx population has the highest incidence of coronavirus infections.
The virus has exposed structural racism in our health care, economic, criminal justice, and immigration systems. Immigrants without legal status cannot collect unemployment, are overrepresented in essential industries, and are often forced to live in crowded homes that make social distancing and self-isolation impossible. Detention centers are hotbeds for the virus and ICE refuses to free detainees whose civil infraction could cost them their life. All the while, the President uses the crisis to implement immigration restrictions that medical experts confirm have no scientific rationale and undermine public health.
As we conclude our third month of this national catastrophe, here’s where things stand on immigrants, immigration, and the coronavirus:
- The HEROES Act passed the House and the Senate is expected to consider a 5th COVID package this summer.
- The Administration is using the pandemic to justify more extreme enforcement efforts, including targeting minors.
- Trump’s executive order suspending immigration has been in place for a month, and it poses real risks for the future of immigration.
- USCIS is asking for emergency funding after closing its doors to visa applicants whose fees keep it afloat.
- More than 1,000 detainees have tested positive; deportations are ongoing despite political protest and health experts’ advice to the contrary.
- We still await a DACA decision, which could land as soon as Monday (June 1).
As immigrants continue to serve on the frontlines of this fight, it’s high time we acknowledge that there is no “us” and “them.” All of our fates are inextricably bound together — we simply cannot afford to abandon huge segments of the population as we fight this pandemic. All of us means #AllOfUS — please join the campaign!
1. The Heroes Act
Congress’ first stimulus package left immigrants to fend for themselves: undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families — roughly 15 million people — were barred from stimulus checks despite having paid taxes. Likewise, undocumented immigrants, and many immigrants with legal status, were excluded from the new Medicaid program designed to expand free testing and treatment.
The House passed the next economic support package, the HEROES Act, on May 15th. The bill allocates $3 trillion to an America in economic freefall and this time, despite almost unanimous Republican opposition, it includes immigrants:
- Noncitizens who pay their taxes using Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs) rather than Social Security Numbers would be eligible for stimulus checks.
- Medicaid testing and treatment for COVID-19 would be available regardless of immigration status.
- Immigrants who were legally present when the Department of Health and Human Services first declared Covid-19 a public health emergency in January would be protected from the consequences of missing filing deadlines or failing to leave the country upon expiration of their visa.
- The bill would automatically extend work authorization and protection for DACA and TPS recipients and would provide protection from removal and work authorization for individuals in critical infrastructure occupations including agricultural workers, meat packers, and others.
- The bill contains no additional funding for immigration enforcement, and it prohibits DHS from transferring any emergency funding towards enforcement initiatives.
The HEROES Act represents a vital and sensible response to a public health emergency that impacts us all, and yet the bill’s immigration provisions are already being attacked by Republican senators. Combined with White House opposition, securing any of the measures in a final package will be an uphill battle. But this is a fight for who counts and who belongs in America and it’s one that should stir us all to action.
2. Immigration enforcement is targeting minors
While the pandemic monopolizes headlines, ICE has asserted emergency powers to justify violating the rights of detained children and unaccompanied minors seeking asylum.
In detention facilities in Texas and Pennsylvania, the government is not complying with the Flores settlement, a 1997 legal decree that sets a national standard for the treatment of minors in government custody. It requires that children be released from custody, preferably to a parent, without delay (detention should not exceed 20 days). Now, ICE agents are manipulating Flores to force parents to make an impossible choice. In detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania, ICE asked parents to choose between letting their children leave detention without them or remaining indefinitely detained together. U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee ordered the government to explain why it has released none of the roughly 350 parents and children who have been forced into a “Sophie’s Choice” in three family detention centers.
The Administration is demonstrating the same disregard for due process and humane treatment of minors at the border. Citing public health concerns, DHS has closed the border to asylum seekers, shirking the country’s obligation to accept refugees under international law. By law, when unaccompanied minors arrive at the border, they are provided shelter, education, and medical care while their asylum cases are adjudicated. If they are subsequently deported, they are sent home only after arrangements are made for a safe return. Now, some children are deported within hours of arriving in the United States.
For parents stuck waiting in makeshift shelters along the border for an indefinitely postponed asylum hearing under the Remain in Mexico program, sending a child to cross the border alone to reunite with a family member stateside is a last-ditch effort for refuge. Under current practice, the child is deported back to the country from which they — and their family — fled, even if there is no longer anyone there to care for them. Please share this NowThis video that tells the story of a family at risk of being torn apart.
The Administration is rationalizing these cruel — and unlawful — deportations as a way to protect against additional coronavirus carriers. And yet under the same sweeping breach in power, immigration officials have abruptly deported migrant children who were already in the country, sometimes putting them on planes in the middle of the night without notifying their families. Public health justifications are very thinly veiling a concerted effort to keep and kick out as many immigrants as possible.
3. Trump’s immigration ban poses a threat to the future of American immigration policy.
Last month, President Trump issued an immigration ban that closed the southern border, imperiling asylum seekers. The order has already been extended once and will almost certainly be indefinitely extended through the election. And if the extreme immigration measures justified by the pandemic continue in a post-Covid America, the result will be an even more isolationist nation that privileges white immigrants, forsakes asylum seekers, and exploits cheap labor.
The coronavirus is merely a convenient excuse to advance the Administration’s longstanding anti-immigrant agenda. Since President Trump’s inauguration, Stephen Miller has been trying to find an illness serious enough to invoke an obscure law that allows drastic immigration restrictions to protect the country from contagious diseases. The executive order isn’t a timely response to a crisis, it’s a product of repurposed draft orders and policy discussions that have taken place repeatedly over the course of this presidential term. If the policy remains in place after the pandemic — as the Administration surely intends — it will severely truncate our immigration system.
The order is currently being challenged in court as an illegal measure that separates parents from children who are about to turn 21 and will lose their chance to remain with their families. The plaintiffs, our partners among them, hope that emphasizing the harm to this group of immigrants who are “aging out” will illuminate the broader harms implicated by this executive order.
4. USCIS seeks emergency funding after cutting off the visa applications that fund it.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has asked Congress for a $1.2 billion cash bailout and fee hikes to stay afloat. USCIS relies on applicant fees to cover 97 percent of its $4.8 billion budget. The irony in the agency’s plea for help is obvious: the Administration has systematically shuttered legal avenues for immigration and made them all but impassable, thereby discouraging the applicants who fund it. In 2020 alone, the Administration has implemented measures to curb immigration that range from racist and Islamophobic travel bans to a highly restrictive public charge rule to an executive order that suspends diversity visas, most family-based visas, and some employment-based visas. More generally, the vetting process has become so cumbersome that application adjudications have slowed dramatically, meaning USCIS is able to process — and collect fees from — fewer applications.
Despite the fact that USCIS created its own problem, Congress should provide them the funds to prevent the collapse of what remains of our immigration services. However, the bailout should come with restrictions on transferring the funds for enforcement purposes and should include mandatory guidelines for accelerating adjudications.
5. More than 1,000 immigrant detainees have coronavirus, yet ICE continues to detain and deport migrants.
As of May 23, ICE had tested a mere ten percent of its detained population; roughly half are positive. Immigrant detention centers have been coronavirus hotspots for the duration of the pandemic (as detailed in previous updates). As the months passed, detention centers have become an entirely predictable and avoidable catastrophe. ICE has released only about 900 people, and advocates have won court cases demanding the release of an additional 324 vulnerable migrants. A recent study estimates that, if the situation continues unchecked, anywhere from 72 to 100 percent of detainees will be infected within 90 days. Meanwhile, ICE continues to deport migrants from detention centers with known Covid-19 cases to Central American countries. Please also share this NowThis video that explains the condition of detainees during the pandemic.
6. The Court could still rule on DACA at any time
Each day that the Supreme Court hands down decisions, nearly 700,000 people are at risk of losing their legal status and their sense of safety in the country they call home. The Court may affirm the Administration’s ability to terminate the program, and if the Administration exploits that opportunity, Dreamers who are helping their country fight the pandemic will face two disasters at once. A decision could come as soon as Monday morning.
We are prepared to fight for Dreamers, just as they have fought for us. When a decision does come down, we will keep you updated on its implications and opportunities for advocacy, so that you might join the fight.
I hope that you and yours are, and remain, safe and healthy in these difficult times.