Column: Estamos aquí también — We are here, too

How we can support immigrants during the COVID-19 crisis

Pro-immigration hat at sold at Elizabeth Warren rally | Susan J. Demas

Everyone in our communities is essential, and our well-being is profoundly interconnected. That’s the reality the COVID-19 public health crisis has made plain. 

In this moment, a legislative response to COVID-19 that protects and promotes the well-being of all requires swift leadership from U.S. Sens. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing).

Anti-immigrant policies are compromising public health. The nonpartisan Urban Institute reported recently stated that immigrant families are avoiding nutrition, housing, and health programs because of the new “public charge” rule that seeks to penalize eligible immigrants for using public benefits.  

It’s damaging the COVID-19 response. That’s not our opinion — it’s the assessment of health care providers on the pandemic’s front lines. And with about 545,000 people, including 167,000 children, living in Michigan with at least one non-citizen in the household, it’s a critical threat to our state’s health and recovery.

Congress has already passed three separate COVID-19 relief packages that exclude thousands of immigrant families in our state.  Many of those excluded from help are essential workers in agriculture, meatpacking and other food production who are literally keeping our state fed while facing the worst of the outbreaks and going without themselves.  

Michigan Dems torch Trump for scapegoating immigrants during pandemic

The U.S. House of Representatives has responded to this inequity by passing the HEROES Act in May. This important legislation includes critical provisions that would improve health care access and economic support regardless of citizenship. 

The HEROES Act will provide 69,000 children and adults living in Michigan economic relief with an economic impact estimated to be $82.6 million. Funds received will stay in the local economy with spending on food, housing, and transportation.  

The act also includes the suspension of the public charge regulations, an extension of stimulus payments to immigrant households excluded from prior payments, an extension of pandemic food assistance until schools reopen and include younger children in child care, extension of eligibility for higher education emergency relief grants to college students regardless of immigration status, and many more provisions that would include everyone during this pandemic. 

Now it needs to pass in the U.S. Senate before it’s too late. We urge Peters and Senator Stabenow to support immigrant inclusion and push for timely passage. 

Representatives from the Protecting Immigrant Families – Michigan (PIF-MI) campaign recently met with Stabenow officials and encouraged them to strengthen the legislation by adding additional health and economic stability protections for all.

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Making sure that immigrant families can get the care they need starts with reversing the devastating “public charge” regulation and prohibiting U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) immigration enforcement actions, including arrests, detentions and deportations, in sensitive locations like hospitals and other health care settings, as well as locations that provide emergency relief. 

We need to ensure that our families feel safe in visiting health care facilities without the fear of having an encounter with ICE officials. In addition, the PIF-MI campaign urges the U.S. Senate to make immigrants eligible for nutrition assistance through programs like the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). With childhood hunger on the rise since the outbreak, and because hunger has always hit immigrant families and other families of color hardest, this is also an urgent priority.

We’d like to be able to say that we’re all in this together, but it simply isn’t true when some are intentionally left out during this national pandemic. The House has delivered a legislative package that moves toward an inclusive pandemic response. We will continue to fight for our whole community’s well-being, but we cannot do this without the support of our U.S. senators. 

The sooner our senators act to advance and improve that package, the sooner our community and our nation will truly be moving toward health and safety together.