The health and prosperity of each of us depends on the health and prosperity of all of us. That’s the reality the COVID-19 public health crisis has made plain. But a legislative response that protects every family requires the continued leadership of New York Senator Chuck Schumer.
It is well-documented that anti-immigrant policies have already compromised our nation’s health. The nonpartisan Urban Institute reported recently that immigrant families are avoiding nutrition, housing, and health programs because of the public charge policy, which puts immigration applications at risk if a person uses those programs. Since the coronavirus outbreak, the administration has said COVID-19 care won’t count. However, the policy continues to undermine our response. That’s not our opinion — it’s the assessment of health care providers on the pandemic’s front lines. And with approximately 3.6 million people in New York living in immigrant families, including 937,000 children, it’s a critical threat to our state’s health.
At the Arab-American Family Support Center (AAFSC), we see the ramifications of COVID-19 first-hand as an essential provider of social services primarily supporting Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian communities in New York. Across the city, our immigrant and refugee communities are bearing the brunt of this public emergency. This is especially true of those who remain on the front line completing essential work, putting them and their families at disproportionate risk of contracting COVID-19. Many others have lost employment and fear losing their home or not having enough food on the table. Further, for survivors of gender-based violence and families impacted by child abuse and neglect, social distancing and directives to remain home can be dangerous and increases the need for resources.
On the ground, AAFSC has been working tirelessly to meet the needs of our community members, quickly adapting to new social distancing provisions and balancing safety and service to ensure the health and well-being of our vulnerable communities. Yet Congress has passed not one, but three COVID-19 relief packages that exclude thousands of immigrant families here in New York and millions more nationwide. This includes the exclusion of undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families. This is unacceptable.
Along with hundreds of other non-profits nationwide, we sent a letter to congressional leadership outlining the critical elements of a bill that would protect us all. In short, an effective COVID-19 response package would ensure that immigrant families can get the care they need and that immigrant families can adhere to social distancing and other prevention practices without compromising basic needs like food and shelter.
The U.S. House of Representatives responded by passing the HEROES Act. This important legislation includes critical provisions that would improve health care access and economic supports for immigrant families. Specifically, it makes COVID-19 testing and care eligible for Emergency Medicaid coverage, improving health care access for thousands of people statewide. It also provides economic relief for 329,000 children and adults in New York boosting our economy by $713,939,000.
The Arab-American Family Support Center, alongside our partners, urges Senator Schumer to ensure that immigrant families are not left behind and to push for timely passage. We appreciate his ongoing leadership and encourage him to stay strong as he fights for the HEROES Act. We also urge our senators to strengthen the legislation by adding critical health and economic stability protections.
Ensuring that immigrant families can get the care they need is about more than insurance coverage. In fact, it starts with reversing the public charge regulation and prohibiting immigration enforcement actions at or near hospitals and other health facilities. Whether they’re insured or not, nobody’s going to the doctor if that could lead to separation from his or her loved ones. Senator Schumer should ensure that common-sense protection is added.
Further, the Senate should make immigrants eligible for nutrition assistance through programs like the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. 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.
The health and prosperity of each of us depends on the health and prosperity of all of us. That’s always been true, but the pandemic has made that reality even more clear. The House has delivered a legislative package that moves toward an inclusive pandemic response that includes all immigrants, not just those related to U.S. citizens. The sooner our senators act to advance and improve that package, the sooner our community and our nation will be truly safe.