Undocumented immigrants are in dire need of relief. But the Trump administration, again, leaves them to struggle alone.
On Sunday, Donald Trump reluctantly signed into law a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package –– the second major federal stimulus package after the $2 trillion CARES Act in March.
Most Americans will soon get a $600 stimulus check in their mailbox or bank account; the amount may even go up to $2,000 if the Senate approves Trump’s demand for bigger payments. For the millions of undocumented immigrants who have been coping with the pandemic with nearly zero support from the federal government, however, they will receive no financial help.
Don’t get me wrong. The new package marks an improvement from the last one. The CARES Act in March not only excluded anyone who has been filing taxes with an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) –– meaning that the person likely does not have legal immigration status –– but also the ITIN filer’s spouse and children, even if they were U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
With the new stimulus bill, members of a mixed-status household will not all be disqualified based on the presence of one undocumented adult. But the ITIN filers themselves are still ineligible. What’s more, for immigrant families where both parents are undocumented, the dependents will not get any benefits regardless of their own statuses.
Sure, $600 seems insignificant in the face of the worst economic crisis facing America since the Great Depression. But it is money that can be used to pay rent, keep the lights on and put food on the table. What excuses do lawmakers have in denying such assistance to hard-working, tax-paying American families in the middle of a pandemic?
COVID-19 has made clear the crucial role that immigrants, both documented and undocumented, play in keeping this country running. Research found that 16.5% of all healthcare workers in America are foreign-born. Noubar Afeyan, the co-founder of Moderna, is an immigrant from Lebanon. Derrick Rossi, the other co-founder, came from Canada. Katalin Karikó, the biochemist who invented the RNA messenger technology used by Pfizer and Moderna to develop COVID-19 vaccines, migrated to the U.S. from communist Hungary.
Undocumented immigrants, though largely barred from taking higher-skilled medical positions, are working as nursing assistants, health aides and maintenance staff to keep health facilities in operation during this time of crisis. They also continue to occupy high-risk essential roles, such as grocery workers, auto-repair mechanics and restaurant employees. In New York, almost one-third of all delivery people are undocumented.
These healthcare professionals and essential workers, while putting their lives on the line to serve their country, belong to the very communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic and the recession that came with it.
The unemployment rate among immigrants has been consistently higher than native-born Americans, hitting 16.4% in April before gradually dropping below 10%. Immigrant women, especially, see a stubbornly high unemployment rate. By September, less than half of all working-age immigrant women were employed.
Excluding undocumented immigrants and their children from federal benefits is not only economically senseless but also morally wrong. Trump’s complaint that giving stimulus checks to “the family members of illegal aliens” is simply “wasteful spending” reeks of his innate disdain for immigrants and an absurd, yet persistent, belief among lawmakers that the worth of someone’s life depends on their citizenship status.
Trump has called the stimulus bill a “disgrace,” but we all know who the true disgrace is.