Why a Coronavirus (Covid-19) Bailout Should Include Undocumented Immigrants
In any crisis, there are certain populations that are far more vulnerable. Typically, the most vulnerable of all populations are undocumented immigrants, and this should come as no surprised: often less familiar with the US government, having less financial resources due to work restrictions, extended less aid from organizations like FEMA and struggling with language barriers to collect any aid offered, undocumented immigrants are the least able to financially weather the storm.
For NYC residents, we see the undocumented immigrant community suffering yet again, however, it isn’t just their problem. Aside from the obvious human rights issues it raises, their lack of assistance will have broader affects, making the nation’s health and economic crisis foreseeably worse.
Despite being stalled in Congress, a financial relief package is still being worked on in Congress. While the usual bitter partisan politics and different aims of the parties is hampering any deal, the relief for individuals suffering financially because of the measures taken to counteract the spread of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) is probably the most relevant aspect.
Will, then, this same benefit be offered to undocumented immigrants, many of whom work in restaurants, as drivers and in other hard-hit industries?
If the rhetoric from the Republican Party is any indication, the answer is a resounding no. This will undeniably lead to more people struggling to make ends meet, being left behind in a time of shared, nationwide crisis.
This is compounded by the fact that undocumented immigrants do not qualify for unemployment insurance. Unemployment insurance, as well as a likely payout to Americans affected by Covid-19, will offer a chance for many to not scramble to find any work available to allow them to continue to pay rent and buy groceries at a time when Americans should be staying at home. This is a good plan in general: make it a Netflix-binge vacation to allow Americans to socially distance and “flatten the curve” of corona.
For the undocumented who are not able to get these benefits, however, they will be forced to find whatever work they can, often in a shady illegal economy that they are typically relegated to already. This will lead to them exposing themselves and others to the coronavirus while trying to provide necessities for themselves and their families.
While the financial aspect is difficult enough, there is also the healthcare aspect that most undocumented immigrants have to deal with. While New York is certainly not the worst state to be undocumented and looking for healthcare in, the vast majority of undocumented immigrants do not qualify for non-emergency healthcare. For them, this means the insurance often necessary to have a primary care physician is not an option.
All of this takes place in an environment of fear and misinformation as rumors spread through immigrant communities about the new “public charge” rules, making it more difficult for those who have accepted certain public benefits to adjust their status. These changes have been approved by the Supreme Court and rumors are rampant, leading many immigrants who are holding out hope of one day applying for a green card to avoid all forms of public assistance.
Meanwhile, federal and local governments are advising to seek care and testing from a primary care physician before resorting to the ER, and for good reason: going to the ER right now without the virus could easily expose to someone with the virus, and going into the ER with the virus could spread it to those who are at the ER with a broken leg or another non-viral need for emergency care. Either way, our emergency rooms are already stretched thin and are increasingly relying on primary care physicians to help.
With Pew Research estimating the number of undocumented immigrants living in New York City at around 1 million, this places the undocumented population of NYC at around 13%. This is a lot of people who, without assistance, will have to continue to hustle, putting themselves and the public at higher risk. When they get sick, their only healthcare options are to either deal with it, or go to the ER.
This is also a large portion of the city that, without public benefits, will not be able to participate in the economy. With a local business environment already suffering from fewer people going out and government-mandated business closings, taking 13% of NYC out of the economy for the foreseeable future is not going to do business owners any favors.
The bottom line is that the healthcare and economic crisis doesn’t discriminate: if a person who is forced to work any job they can find and becomes ill or does not have enough money to contribute to the economy, it has an effect on their community regardless of immigration status. With updates on the crisis becoming more dire on a daily basis, it simply doesn’t make sense to have more people unable to seek medical care or spend money in local businesses.
While New York may be the most relevant example, it’s plain to see that other cities have the same interest, and would be similarly helped if the most vulnerable among us are taken into account.