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.
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.