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International students at risk of being deported, H1-B visa bans, and the pressing change in public charge all have one thing in common – they are targeted towards immigrants. 

It feels like a car crash caused by a distracted driver, with the wreckage laid bare on the road, making way for those with sturdier vehicles.

While the rest of us are putting on masks with trepidation, dousing our hands in sanitizer, and cautiously going to the grocery store, the Trump Administration’s public charge measure is making its mark on access to social services and the rise of minority deaths during the pandemic. 

Luvia Quiñones of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, explains during the June 26th EMS Briefing on strategies for keeping immigrant families safe, that the last time a change was made to public charge was in 1996. The current ruling gives permission to immigration officials (ICE) to predict, based on current income, skills, and assets, if the green card or visa applicant will potentially end up relying on the government for benefits. And if so, their application will be rejected.

Luvia Quiñones speaking at the EMS briefing on 6/26/20

The pointed measure barring immigrants from coming to the US and becoming citizens, also ensures that immigrants currently in the States are in constant fear. 

Dr. Daniel Turner-Lloveras, Harbor UCLA Medical Center and frontline doctor for COVID-19, reminds us that, “We need to stop detaining immigrants in general”. Why? While USCIS has stated that they will not arrest any undocumented immigrants seeking COVID related help, Dr. Turner-Lloveras questions the intent.

“Do you think suddenly people would come to get care? Especially when they’ve been afraid for years?”

Hospitals and government organizations cannot be the ones to deliver COVID testing and related care to disenfranchised populations. The distrust of our administration, and rightly so, is increasing the risk of transmission and death related to coronavirus. Dr. Turner-Lloveras advocates for emergency health care in community clinics – a solution to the language barrier and scare tactics employed by ICE. 

Exacerbating the disproportionate deaths of marginalized communities in America are the detention centers for immigrants. Detention centers, on average, are high density and unhygienic, with a lack of access to healthcare and basic needs. But compounded with the pandemic, the dialogue must include the rampant medical abuse in such facilities. Detention centers place immigrants in high-risk situations beyond their control.

Image is taken from Freedom for Immigrants.

Yet, this is not where the anti-immigration policies end. The “Remain in Mexico” Program has displaced asylum seekers awaiting trial in the US court system, into high-density housing in unfamiliar territory and isolated their family – a human rights violation and a public health hazard.

The Trump Administration challenges immigrant safety and well being from two angles: policies preventing immigrant stake in the country and access to healthcare and benefits.

Public charge threatens an immigrant’s capacity to stay in the country and potentially apply for Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, disability insurance, unemployment, any government subsidies. Dr. Turner-Lloveras reports that one in ten Latin American families apply for housing subsidies and one in three Latin American families avoid healthcare; these are the same families that are displaced, frontline staff and require assistance.

Connie Choi, Campaign Field Manager & Strategist at the National Immigration Law Center, provides some hope on the federal level, championing undocumented and immigrant rights on the Congress floor. NILC lobbied for the House to pass the Heroes Act, expanding benefits to the undocumented and other non-citizens, which passed on May 15th, 2020. However, this piece of legislation is currently being held up on the Senate floor. Choi urges constituents to call their senators and encourage them to prioritize the Heroes Act and to halt public charge.

For those that will be directly impacted by public charge, Madison Allen, Senior Policy Attorney at CLASP, clarified what is available for immigrant families to protect them during this turbulent time.

If you have a social security number, you can apply for cash assistance, SNAP, Emergency Medicaid, and unemployment insurance without impacting your public charge determination.

For those undocumented, you can apply for Pandemic EBT if you’ve lost free or reduced meals provided for your child by the school. Community health clinics will be providing testing and care for COVID; make sure to check their availability first. All children, regardless of status, are eligible for Medicaid; your child’s Medicaid will not be used to examine your immigration status.

Check your state and localities for benefits being applied by area and district. California Governor, Gavin Newson, implemented the California Disaster Assistance Program for undocumented populations. Through the program, each family can get $500 in direct assistance per person and $1000 per household.

All sources for help are linked within the article.

The wreckage is not a lost cause. I don’t see a totaled car. I see an unhinged door, a broken side mirror, a detached bumper. Focused intent and continuous pressure on our legislators can repair the damage. Our sources of strength lie within our community and with those that resonate with the immigrant plight. So, let’s get to it. As Lin Manuel Miranda raps in the Broadway musical Hamilton, “Immigrants, we get the job done!”

Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

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