Harris, Colleagues Call on Congressional Leaders to Ensure Immigrant Families Can Access Critical Services During Coronavirus Pandemic
Letter urges access to vital protections and economic lifelines for all communities, regardless of English language proficiency or immigration status
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Monday joined Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Representative Judy Chu (D-CA), along with 27 Senators and 76 Members of the House of Representatives in writing to members of Congressional leadership to call for an inclusive coronavirus relief package that ensures that urgently-needed coronavirus testing and medical care and relief benefits are accessible by all communities, regardless of limited English proficiency or immigration status. In their letter, the Members of Congress highlighted the immigrant workers who are on the front lines of the coronavirus response as health care workers, farmworkers, grocery store workers, and other essential service providers.
“As Congress responds to the critical needs of our country during the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge you to ensure that the vital protections and economic lifelines provided in coronavirus relief legislation are accessible to all communities, regardless of immigration status or limited English proficiency,” the lawmakers wrote. “COVID-19 has caused one of the greatest public health and economic crises our Nation has ever faced, and it requires a whole-of-society approach. A response that leaves out immigrants—many of whom are on the front lines in our fight against COVID-19—will be ineffective and detrimental to our efforts to stop this pandemic.”
The lawmakers continued: “We strongly urge you to build on the critical steps Congress has taken to protect families and workers in prior coronavirus relief packages by including the above-mentioned common sense measures in the upcoming relief legislation. We also ask that you provide robust funding for government agencies and community based-organizations to provide information about these coronavirus services in at least the languages described as most encountered in the 2016 FEMA Language Access Plan.”
Separately, earlier this month, Senators Harris and Hirono, and Representatives Chu, Grijalva (D-AZ), and Correa (D-CA) released the Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act, legislation that would provide critical assistance to vulnerable communities impacted by COVID-19, regardless of immigration status or English language proficiency. The legislation is supported by more than 70 organizations, including labor unions, civil rights groups, and immigrant rights groups.
In addition to Senators Harris and Hirono and Representative Chu, the letter to House and Senate leadership was signed by Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tom Udall (D-NM), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Chris Coons (D-DE), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom R. Carper (D-DE), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Representatives Lou Correa (D-CA), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Nydia Velàzquez (D-NY), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Peter Welch (D-VT), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Terri Sewell (D-AL), Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Sylvia Garcia (D-TX), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ted Deutch (D-FL), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Jason Crow (D-CO), Bill Foster (D-IL), John Larson (D-CT), Steven Horsford (D-NV), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), Dina Titus (D-NV), Darren Soto (D-FL), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Mark Takano (D-CA), Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-CNMI), Adam Smith (D-WA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Joaquin Castro (D-TX), David Cicilline (D-RI), Joe Kennedy (D-MA), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Danny Davis (D-IL), Kathy Castor (D-FL), Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Al Green (D-TX), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Thomas Suozzi (D-NY), TJ Cox (D-CA), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Grace Meng (D-NY), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Gil Cisneros (D-CA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Alma Adams (D-NC), Linda Sánchez (D-CA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Deb Haaland (D-NM), Bennie Thompson (D-MS), José Serrano (D-NY), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Karen Bass (D-CA), Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-CA), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Don Beyer (D-VA), Juan Vargas (D-CA), and Albio Sires (D-NJ).
The letter can be found here and below:
Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi, and Minority Leader McCarthy:
As Congress responds to the critical needs of our country during the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge you to ensure that the vital protections and economic lifelines provided in coronavirus relief legislation are accessible to all communities, regardless of immigration status or limited English proficiency. COVID-19 has caused one of the greatest public health and economic crises our Nation has ever faced, and it requires a whole-of-society approach. A response that leaves out immigrants—many of whom are on the front lines in our fight against COVID-19—will be ineffective and detrimental to our efforts to stop this pandemic.
As the COVID-19 outbreak is challenging our already-strained medical system, we must keep in mind that immigrants make up a disproportionate share of nurses, home health aides, and health care facility workers. Nearly 1.7 million immigrants work in the health care industry. There are 29,000 DACA recipients who are health care workers, while another 12,700 DACA recipients support the health care industry in crucial roles such as custodians and administrators. In addition, there are 11,600 Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders who are health care workers. Therefore, it is vital that Congress ensures that immigrant workers, including these frontline workers who are risking their lives to save others, are able to maintain their work authorization and access key coronavirus relief measures.
Moreover, during a time when more than ninety percent of Americans, as of April 8, have been ordered to stay at home except to get essential services, we are relying on farmworkers, grocery store workers, and other essential service providers to meet our basic needs. Many of these indispensable workers are immigrants who face additional vulnerabilities such as low incomes and lack of health insurance coverage. As these workers endure the challenges of this pandemic to provide for our critical needs, we request that you extend the coronavirus cash assistance Congress provided in the CARES Act to include immigrant families who file taxes with an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). In 2015 alone, 4.35 million people paid more than $13.7 billion in net taxes using an ITIN, according to the American Immigration Council. By excluding ITIN filers and their family members from access to cash payments, spouses and children in mixed-status immigrant families will be denied critical economic support, including 5.1 million children, the vast majority of whom are U.S. citizens.
As Congress is taking bold steps to provide coverage of COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccines, it must ensure that everyone has adequate access to these health care services, regardless of immigration status. Congress expanded COVID-19 testing through Medicaid for the uninsured in prior coronavirus relief legislation. We ask for additional clarity to ensure that all uninsured individuals, including immigrants, may qualify. We also ask that in any subsequent coronavirus relief legislation, you ensure that all low-income communities, including immigrants, can access Medicaid-funded COVID-19-related medical care such as treatment and vaccines, alongside coverage for testing.
We further request that you modify immigration policies that deter immigrant families from obtaining the medical care they need during this public health emergency, such as the public charge rule and immigration enforcement actions around sensitive locations. Despite U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ announcement that those obtaining COVID-19 testing or treatment will not be penalized under the public charge rule, the rule continues to have a widespread chilling effect. It has discouraged even those not subject to the rule, including U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, from getting the health care and essential services they need due to fear and confusion about the rule’s impact. Suspending the public charge rule and immigration enforcement actions around sensitive locations, such as hospitals, COVID-19 testing sites, domestic violence shelters, food banks, and sites providing food and nutrition services for women, infants, and children, would help ensure that vulnerable populations are able to access critical coronavirus services.
Accordingly, we strongly urge you to build on the critical steps Congress has taken to protect families and workers in prior coronavirus relief packages by including the above-mentioned common sense measures in the upcoming relief legislation. We also ask that you provide robust funding for government agencies and community based-organizations to provide information about these coronavirus services in at least the languages described as most encountered in the 2016 FEMA Language Access Plan. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.
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