Our community is in crisis. COVID19 has disproportionately impacted already marginalized populations, increasing inequity in access to critical resources like food, shelter and healthcare. Systemic disparities make it even harder for many Houstonians to protect themselves against the virus. The COVID19 recovery committees are responsible for prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable and must commit to building long-term wellbeing for all.
Houston is home to one of the largest immigrant populations in the country, with 1 in 4 people foreign-born, over 500,000 undocumented residents and 32% of children with at least one non-citizen parent. The impact of COVID19 on the immigrant community is acutely harmful. Existing systems of power are ill-designed to address the needs of immigrants irrespective of their status. This is particularly apparent where their marginalization intersects with the historic disenfranchisement of communities on the basis of race, gender, class, mobility, etc.
- the recent Presidential Proclamation substantially limiting legal immigration for at least 60 days as well as the closure of the U.S./Mexico border;
- the exclusion of immigrants from recent federal aid package meant to support families during the pandemic, ignoring the critical contributions of immigrants as frontline workers in high risk jobs, as taxpayers, and as a critical part of our workforce; and
- the denial of public assistance to many in times of economic hardship, aggravated by recent changes to “public charge” regulations that have served to punish low-income immigrant families.
“Everyone is experiencing both the rapid spread of COVID-19 and the systemic response to it, which has exposed structural injustice and inequity in new and profound ways. Scapegoating immigrants offers no real solution to the public health and economic needs of our community. We remain committed to helping Houston’s immigrant survivors thrive through this turbulent time and will fight for policies that protect all members of our Houston-area community. Without immediate action from our local public officials, already at-risk groups like immigrant survivors of violence, who are among the communities hardest hit by the pandemic, will be further marginalized and vulnerable to illness, homelessness, and death.”
“If our country wants to come out of this crisis strengthened and with a chance to become a better place for all, we need to face a fundamental contradiction painfully expressed in the recent federal CARES Act that excluded immigrants and their families from accessing those needed resources. Can we continue taking the work and money of undocumented immigrant workers, many of whom are now being considered “essential” such as farmworkers, food and grocery staff, caregivers, childcare providers, and maintenance and cleaning workers while abandoning them and their families during this pandemic? Our own legislative and political process created the disastrous conditions that make it practically impossible for a low-wage worker to migrate with papers or to regularize their situation once in our country. Yet when disaster hits, one thing is made clear: we are all citizens of the cities we inhabit. We live and die together, we show up for one another in the communities where we work, play, and pray, where our kids go to school together. City, county and state governments can lead the way in righting this terrible wrong. It’s the least we can do.”
“There is no reason for children to be unlawfully turned away at the border and returned to the very dangers they just escaped. Federal law prevents U.S. immigration officials from turning children away without first evaluating their safety. At this moment, federal officials have ample capacity to safely screen children and place them in protective custody consistent with federal and state health guidelines—for their own safety and while protecting the safety of others. Frankly, it is no surprise that the administration is using COVID-19 as a pretext for denying children their basic human rights. But as with similar violations we must hold the government accountable for ensuring children’s safety.”
The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC) condemns all federal actions that weaponize COVID19 as an opportunity to further advance harmful and discriminatory policies.
Federal funding for testing and treatment uses Medicaid to provide free testing to the uninsured. However, it did not alter the Medicaid eligibility requirement for immigrants. This means that undocumented immigrants, those with some status (like DACA or temporary protected status (TPS)), and even lawful permanent residents (“green card” holders) who have been in the U.S. less than five years will not have access to Medicaid if they get sick. Furthermore, the public charge regulations, aimed at inciting fear in immigrant communities, have caused many parents to withdraw from benefits that their U.S. citizen children qualify for, including Medicaid. One Houston social services agency saw a 31% drop in enrollment in Children’s Medicaid, and 60% in adult Medicaid/CHIP-P.
In order for a household to receive an Economic Impact Payment, every child and adult in the household must have a Social Security number (SSN) valid for employment, with the exception of members of armed services. This means that mixed-status households will not receive assistance unless the person with an SSN files independently. Furthermore, undocumented immigrants who have been paying taxes with an ITIN number will not receive any cash assistance.
Unemployment insurance will only be given to individuals who have work-authorization both during the time they claim unemployment, and at the time they file the claim. Many immigrant workers are awaiting a decision on their immigration benefits, yet USCIS offices are currently closed. Others are at risk losing that status, such as DACA recipients who await a Supreme Court decision. Undocumented immigrants do not have work-authorization and are thus ineligible.
The federal resource packages did not offer disaster food stamps (D-SNAP), which would have provided food and nutrition assistance to everyone in the US, regardless of immigration status. Instead, only “qualified” immigrants can apply, which excludes large numbers of immigrants. Although Pandemic EBT would provide some assistance to children who received free lunches while in school, we do not currently have it in Texas. Just as for Medicaid, public charge has led to huge drop-offs in SNAP enrollment rates in Texas. For instance, ECHOS here in Houston, saw a 47% drop in SNAP enrollment, from 2017-2019.
Texans of all immigration statuses are facing eviction due to nonpayment of rent. Yet undocumented immigrants face an additional hardship. HILSC has heard reports that landlords are threatening to call ICE if a tenant does not move out for non-payment, despite the fact that the Texas Supreme Court has stopped all eviction proceedings through April 30 and all writes of possession through May 18.
We call on all COVID19 recovery committees and leaders – particularly Harris County Recovery Czar Armando Walle and City of Houston Relief & Recovery Czar Marvin Odum – to implement local policies that address the needs of all community members, irrespective of immigration status.
HILSC supports the following:
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Our recommendations represent a fabric of meaningful policy changes that, when collectively implemented, safeguard the wellbeing of our community. The public money needed to implement these policies belongs to all of us – and should be used to benefit all residents of our region. The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative offers its expertise and network of partners to the COVID19 recovery committees and their leadership to help advise on and implement these policies.