Author Archives: Richard Irwin

Advocates Ask District Court to Block Public Charge Rule Amidst Pandemic Following SCOTUS Rejection

May 18, 2020

– Juan Gastelum, National Immigration Law Center, (213) 375-3149, [email protected]
– Jen Nessel, Center for Constitutional Rights, (212) 614-6449, [email protected]
– Alejandra Lopez, The Legal Aid Society, (917) 294-9348, [email protected]
– Yatziri Tovar, Make the Road New York, (917) 771-2818, [email protected]

Advocates Ask District Court to Block Public Charge Rule Amidst Pandemic Following SCOTUS Rejection

Obstacles to public benefits will exacerbate health and economic crises, attorneys argue

NEW YORK — Today, lawyers from the National Immigration Law Center, the Center for Constitutional Rights, The Legal Aid Society, and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP joined New York State Attorney General Letitia James arguing (via video) before a federal district court judge regarding three related lawsuits challenging several Trump administration “public charge” rules and seeking a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rules, which penalize immigrants who access certain public benefits or are deemed at risk of someday needing public benefits, primarily affect low-income immigrants of color. The rules are particularly harmful during the current public health crisis, as they cause families to forgo much-needed health care, food, and housing assistance. Among the issues argued today is an emergency motion to block the rule from remaining in effect during the pandemic.

“The Trump administration’s tests dangerously attack immigrants of color and low-income families who already lack health access and are currently facing food insecurity,” said Javier H. Valdés, co-executive director of Make the Road New York. “As the country faces a public health crisis, allowing these racist wealth tests to continue to be imposed on our immigration system can cause catastrophic harm to our loved ones and neighbors. We urge the court to put a stop to these unlawful and inhumane policy changes.”

Earlier in the pandemic, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an emergency request, filed by Attorney General James on behalf of three states and New York City and supported by community groups that have sued over the public charge rules, to block one of the rules from taking effect amid the pandemic. Today, the attorney general, joined by the plaintiffs in the Make the Road New York v. Cuccinelli case, urged the district court to halt the Department of Homeland Security public charge rule during the COVID-19 emergency, an avenue left open by the Supreme Court decision. Also argued today were Trump administration motions to dismiss in the Make the Road New York v. Cuccinelli case, as well as the Make the Road New York v. Pompeo case challenging the U.S. Department of State public charge rule, as well as a presidential proclamation that bars entry to immigrants based on their ability to pay for health insurance.

Community groups, including lead plaintiff Make the Road New York, say that all these rules chill immigrants from accessing public benefits, because under the rules doing so threatens their immigration status. The public charge rules redefine and broaden the meaning of a “public charge” from those who are primarily reliant on government aid to include anyone who is likely to use any amount, at any time in the future, of various cash and noncash benefits, including Medicaid, food stamps, and housing subsidies. The presidential proclamation requires immigrants to demonstrate the ability to obtain private health insurance within 30 days of arrival in the U.S. or financial resources to pay for future medical costs, and bars entry to those who cannot. Advocates condemn the rules and proclamation as unlawful and discriminatory wealth tests.

“During this unprecedented pandemic, everyone, regardless of immigration status, needs access to the health care and government benefits for which they are eligible,” said Susan Welber, staff attorney in the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “As long as people are deterred from seeking testing or treatment for COVID-19 and other types of vital benefits like food assistance out of fear of immigration consequences, efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus are impeded and put immigrants and nonimmigrants alike at risk.”

“The implementation of these arbitrary and discriminatory rules, which target immigrants with medical conditions and low-income immigrants of color, is unconstitutional and undermines community efforts to combat the global pandemic,” said Ghita Schwarz, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

“The pandemic has brought to light how all of us are interconnected and essentially dependent upon each other. Yet this discriminatory wealth test is needlessly undermining everyone’s health, safety, and economic security,” said Joanna Cuevas-Ingram, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “The Trump administration’s relentless effort to put these new public charge regulations and his own ‘health care proclamation’ into effect puts lives at risk, hurting public health, the economy, and us all. The court heard powerful evidence today about why it can and should stop these regulations and the proclamation before they cause even more damage and harm to everyone.”

Make the Road New York v. Cuccinelli was filed by The Legal Aid Society, Center for Constitutional Rights, and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP on behalf of Make the Road New York (MRNY), African Services Committee (ASC), Asian American Federation, Catholic Charities Community Services (CCCS), and Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC).

Make the Road New York v. Pompeo was filed by The Legal Aid Society, Center for Constitutional Rights, National Immigration Law Center, and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP on behalf of Make the Road New York (MRNY), African Services Committee (ASC), Central American Refugee Center New York (CARECEN-NY), Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), Catholic Charities Community Services (CCCS), and individual plaintiffs.


NILC Statement Regarding $3 Trillion HEROES Act Relief Package

May 14, 2020

Email: [email protected]
Juan Gastelum, 213-375-3149
Hayley Burgess, 202-805-0375

National Immigration Law Center (NILC) Statement Regarding $3 Trillion HEROES Act Relief Package

WASHINGTON — Tomorrow, the U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, a $3 trillion package to provide additional economic relief amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Kamal Essaheb, deputy director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement:

“Tomorrow, the House is set to vote on its fifth COVID-19 relief bill, which would finally give crucial relief to immigrant communities that were unacceptably left out before.

“This bill is an important step toward recognizing that the only way we’ll get through this crisis and rebuild stronger is if everyone, including immigrants, has access to the financial and health care support they need. This bill provides for access to free COVID-19 testing and care as well as any eventual vaccines, and it provides that immigrant taxpayers previously left out in relief bills — including millions of spouses and parents of U.S. citizens — will finally receive stimulus checks.

“The bill also provides that millions of immigrants, including those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and temporary protected status (TPS), continue to have protection from deportation and the ability to go to work, provide for their families, and help keep our communities running. Further, it would protect — and likely save — immigrant lives by seeking to release at least some of the tens of thousands of immigrants languishing in unsafe and inhumane civil detention custody.

“We recognize that the bill could have gone further in ensuring that immigrant communities can safely access health care and critical services — for example, by suspending the ‘public charge’ wealth test, stopping civil immigration actions that create fear and barriers to vital support, and prioritizing more people for release from detention. However, this bill takes important steps forward, and we call on Congress to move quickly and make sure these important provisions are part of any final relief bill.

“Every day, like so many Americans, people from our immigrant communities show up and play essential roles in caring for us through this unprecedented pandemic. We can no longer afford to wait for relief. The only way our country will get through this crisis is by ensuring that all Americans have the support and care we need, no matter what any of us looks like, how much money we make, or where we were born.”

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National and State Immigrants’ Rights Leaders and Meatpacking Workers and Their Families Come Together to Address Worker Safety Amidst COVID-19 Crisis

May 6, 2020

Hayley Burgess, [email protected], 202-805-0375
Hamp Price, TIRRC, [email protected]
Jack Norman, Voces, [email protected]

National and State Immigrants’ Rights Leaders and Meatpacking Workers and Their Families Come Together to Address Worker Safety Amidst COVID-19 Crisis

WASHINGTON, DC — In meatpacking plants across the country, immigrants and people of color are facing disproportionate COVID-19 infection rates as plants are increasingly confirmed hotspots for COVID-19. As essential workers who are on the frontlines confronting COVID-19, plant employees who are compelled to show up for work each day are at greater risk of occupational exposure and death from the virus. On a press call yesterday afternoon, national and state immigrants’ rights leaders came together with meatpacking workers and their families to address this ongoing crisis and outline the changes that government officials and corporations must make to ensure workers’ safety.

“This pandemic has exposed the historical racial inequities of our health, immigration, and labor/employment systems, which means that immigrants and other workers of color are impacted by COVID-19 on a greater scale. Workers have the right to be safe and healthy when reporting to work each day — not just during a crisis. When deprived of these rights, it affects everyone in the workplace. And as we are seeing now, it can have consequences to our supply chain and throughout the communities where meatpacking workers live,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “We cannot think of healthy employees and a resilient supply chain as two separate issues. We will continue to fight alongside workers to demand they receive access to health care, COVID-19 testing, treatment and care, as well as financial relief and protections in the workplace.”

Guadalupe Páez, a Wisconsin meat processing plant worker who recently recovered from COVID-19 said, “I’m angry at how I was treated, because they didn’t want to believe that I was sick, they just told me ‘you have a cold.’ It’s a message to my coworkers and other workers that we have to raise our voices so that our concerns are heard. I believe that we have a right to speak out, but there are many people who remain silent — but we have the right to speak out. My message to the workers is that your life is above work.”

“People are really afraid. You’re forcing them to make a choice between their life and this job. Workers see what’s happening, and in the case of Mr. Páez, his life was at stake,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera. “We need companies and the government to step up to support immigrant essential workers. Constant vigilance is required to do the follow-through and have the kind of public pressure and governmental agency support to fundamentally value the lives of these essential workers and their families. Today not only are we celebrating the fact that Mr. Páez and Dora (his daughter) are reunited as survivors, but because of their courage, right now, at both these companies all of the workers’ demands have been met. Their demands should be mandatory guidelines, and there should be mandatory guidelines about higher-quality masks and significant improvement in essential workplaces before we even talk about putting everybody back to work.”

“Workers in these plants are incredibly dedicated and work hard to provide for their families. Unfortunately, their employers have taken advantage of them and created a culture where workers are unsafe and feel they have no voice to speak up,” said Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz, an organizer on behalf of meatpacking workers and their families in Iowa. “Because of this, I and many of the children of these workers are hoping to bring awareness and support for them so we can hold these companies accountable and help empower workers  to share their stories.”

“Now more than ever, it is abundantly clear that our personal health and well-being are interdependent with our neighbors’, coworkers’, and communities’. This means no worker should have to put themselves at risk of getting ill in order to provide for their family,” said Stephanie Teatro, co-director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. “Workers in the food processing industry have always been essential, and we must ensure that all workers, no matter where they’re from or how they got here, are protected and safe at work.”


Recording of the press call:

The National Immigration Law Center’s (NILC’s) Winning in the States initiative aims to tangibly improve the lives of immigrants in the communities where they live and to help change the national narrative about immigration. NILC is investing in building power in these communities to accelerate the progress being made, and we are creating a structure for advocates across the country to share resources and support each other so that, together, we can ensure that every immigrant living in the United States can feel safe and supported in their community. Learn more at

550+ Advocates Say Coronavirus Response Undermined by Excluding Immigrant Families

April 21, 2020

Hayley Burgess, [email protected], 202-805-0375
Tom Salyers, [email protected], 202-906-8002

550+ Advocates Say Coronavirus Response Undermined by Excluding Immigrant Families

WASHINGTON, DC — More than 550 advocacy organizations from all over the United States sent a letter Tuesday urging congressional leadership to deliver coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response legislation that extends health care and economic support to all families, including immigrant families. The letter, signed by 561 organizations, was coordinated by the National Immigration Law Center and the Center on Law and Social Policy. It warns that continued failure to address the health and economic stability of immigrant families will “greatly undermine the nation’s ability to overcome this unprecedented crisis.”

More than a dozen national health care provider and advocacy groups signed the letter. Provider groups include the National Medical Association, the National Hispanic Medical Association, the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations, the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, and the National Council of Asian Pacific Islander Physicians. Advocates include Families USA, Community Catalyst, and Health Care for America Now.

“It’s simple — if immigrant families can’t get the health care they need, we are all at risk,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “Immigrants are among the essential workers helping to lead America’s fight against COVID-19 — caring for the sick, harvesting our food, delivering packages, and transporting critical supplies — yet Congress has failed to protect immigrant families from the health and economic threat of COVID-19. Immigrant families will be key drivers of our nation’s recovery from this pandemic and should be included in any future relief packages.”

“Hundreds of leading health provider and advocacy voices agree — Congress must address the needs of immigrant families,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of the Center on Law and Social Policy. “But every day they delay puts all of us at risk. Congress must act now to ensure that everyone, regardless of where they people were born, everyone can access economic support, workplace protections, health care, and other support they need to thrive.”

The letter names specific policy changes required for an inclusive and effective COVID-19 response:

  • Halting implementation of public charge regulations that deter immigrant families from getting needed health care and assistance
  • Making health care is available regardless of a person’s immigration status, income or categorical eligibility, with COVID-19-related care covered through Medicaid
  • Increased funding for Community Health Centers, free and charitable clinics, school-based health centers, and critical access hospitals, which are essential providers in many immigrant and low-income communities
  • Delivery of information about COVID-19, health care options, and public programs in multiple languages and through trusted community providers, with interpretation services funding
  • Tax rebates for filers who use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, as well as those who use a Social Security number
  • Extending nutrition assistance programs such as the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) to immigrant families, and extending the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program through the summer of 2020

Many of these policies are incorporated in the Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Judy Chu (H.R. 6437) and Sen. Mazie Hirono (Senate bill number not yet assigned). Legislation, also sponsored by Rep. Chu, to block implementation of the “public charge” regulations has 124 cosponsors in the House of Representatives.

Research confirms that the Trump administration’s public charge regulation has deterred immigrant families from seeking health care assistance. Since it was implemented in February, public health officials have warned that public charge and other Trump anti-immigrant policies undermine the nation’s response to COVID-19. Experts have also warned that immigrant families and other families of color face additional barriers to care and economic resilience, as well as disproportionate impact from both the health and economic consequences of COVID-19. Yet response packages enacted with bipartisan support in Congress have left immigrant families out of COVID-19–related health care and economic assistance.


To Ensure Collective Health and Safety, Federal Packages for COVID-19 Relief Must Include Immigrant Communities (The Torch)

To Ensure Collective Health and Safety, Federal Packages for COVID-19 Relief Must Include Immigrant Communities

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Holly Straut-Eppsteiner
APRIL 21, 2020

The COVID-19 public health crisis has demonstrated how our health and well-being — everyone’s — are interconnected. Congress has passed relief packages that help many Americans access health care, paid leave, and economic support, but these measures don’t sufficiently address the widespread harm caused by the crisis. Legislation passed to date, including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), has failed to address the needs of millions of our immigrant community members and their families.

Immigrants face many structural barriers to accessing health care, and they are highly represented in jobs that put them at risk during this crisis. The impacts of COVID-19 in low-income immigrant communities — places such as Langley Park, MD, and central Queens, NY — have already been catastrophic. We urgently need legislation that protects the health and well-being of all our communities, including immigrants. Outlined here are key provisions that would make the next phase of COVID-19 relief legislation more inclusive of immigrant communities.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Everyone must have access to COVID-19 testing and treatment

During this crisis, uninsured immigrant communities need coverage for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and, when they’re available, vaccines. The uninsured rate has risen in recent years, and immigrants are disproportionately represented in the uninsured population. People who are undocumented are ineligible for most Medicaid coverage and coverage through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace.

The CARES Act falls short on ensuring access to essential treatment for uninsured people who are ineligible for full-scope Medicaid. COVID-19–related coverage must be available under Medicaid for any individual who is uninsured. And Congress must ensure that information about the virus, health care, and benefits are accessible, through interpretation services, to people who don’t speak or read English fluently.

Congress must halt implementation of harmful “public charge” rules

No one should have to fear that getting the health care they need could adversely affect their immigration status, but, unfortunately, that’s already happening. In February 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began implementing its new “public charge” rule that takes into consideration a person’s use of noncash public benefits, such as Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps), in determining their eligibility for lawful permanent resident status. Several courts preliminarily enjoined the rule, but these injunctions were lifted by the U.S. Supreme Court.

DHS’s public charge rule created a widespread chilling effect on immigrants’ accessing programs and services even before the government began implementing it. Now there’s clear evidence that immigrants are fearful of accessing medical treatment for COVID-19 because of public charge, even though U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it would not consider the receipt of COVID-19 testing, treatment, or preventative care in public charge assessments.

The next COVID-19 relief package should include provisions to stop the DHS public charge rule’s implementation and also that of a similar rule being implemented by the U.S. State Department, whose consulates abroad issue visas to people seeking to immigrate. Congress should also pass legislation to halt any further action by federal agencies that are intended to make public charge policies more restrictive.

Immigrants must be able to access hospitals and health care facilities without fearing immigration enforcement

Undocumented communities must also be able to access the care and services they need without fear that visiting a health care facility will put them at risk of being separated from their families. The federal government has long designated “sensitive locations,” such as hospitals, schools and churches, as safe spaces that are off-limits to immigration enforcement.

As long as the present public health crisis lasts, DHS should cease all civil immigration enforcement, to help ensure that immigrant communities stay home and focused on remaining healthy or able to access crucial medical services without the added fear of being torn from loved ones. While U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has stated that it will not carry out enforcement operations at health care facilities during the COVID-19 crisis, states and localities should remain vigilant to hold ICE accountable. A NILC toolkit titled “Filing Immigration Enforcement Civil Rights Complaints for Violations of the ‘Sensitive Locations’ Policy At or Near Your School” can be used or adapted to help hold ICE accountable.

Immigrant taxpayers should be eligible for economic relief

The CARES Act provides some taxpayers a “recovery rebate” of up to $1,200 for individuals or $2,400 for jointly filing couples, and $500 per dependent child. However, many immigrant families have been left out of this program and subjected to additional financial hardship and also health risks, since many may be forced to continue working in unsafe conditions. Immigrant tax-filers who do not have Social Security numbers (SSNs) can file income taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). But under the CARES Act, households that include ITIN-filers are generally ineligible for this tax rebate.

Congress should remove the SSN requirement to ensure that all taxpayers have access to the recovery rebate and are able to provide shelter and food for their families.

Immigrant workers need to be able to keep their jobs and to work in safe and healthy conditions

Immigrant workers who continue working in industries designated as essential are encountering conditions that put their health and safety at risk every day, one of the many causes of significant racial and ethnic disparities seen in the impacts of COVID-19. Workers need a federal law, such as the Essential Workers Bill of Rights, that would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an emergency temporary standard requiring employers to take minimum steps to protect workers during this crisis. Any safety plan should prioritize prevention of exposure, with an emphasis on increased physical distancing and personal protective equipment at no cost to workers. Workers in essential industries also need universal paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave to allow them to stay home and self-quarantine when necessary.

Congress should do all it can to avert layoffs and keep workers in their jobs — even if that means taking on temporary responsibility for covering employers’ payroll expenses. Workers who have temporary work authorization through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), temporary protected status (TPS), or nonimmigrant visas need an automatic extension of their status or work authorization for the length of time they most recently held status or were work-authorized in order to ensure that they can keep working when able and qualify for unemployment insurance when they cannot. States and localities should follow California’s lead in setting up funds to help workers who are ineligible for unemployment insurance.

IF WE ARE SERIOUS ABOUT truly stemming the tide of the crushing health and economic consequences of this pandemic, we must include immigrants in our legislative solutions. More detailed information is available in NILC’s “Understanding the Impact of Key Provisions of COVID-19 Relief Bills on Immigrant Communities.”

Holly Straut-Eppsteiner is NILC’s Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow and research program manager.

New Documents Reveal ICE Access to DACA Recipients’ Information

April 21, 2020

Juan Gastelum, [email protected], 213-375-3149
Yatziri Tovar, [email protected], 917-771-2818
José Alonso Muñoz, [email protected], 202-810-0746

New Documents Reveal ICE Access to DACA Recipients’ Information

NEW YORK, NY — As immigrant youth await a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on the unlawful termination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), documents obtained by Make the Road New York and Make the Road Connecticut through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Trump administration reveal that information DACA applicants shared in confidence in their applications can be accessed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The news organization ProPublica revealed this new information publicly today in a new article. The documents reveal that ICE has broad access to DACA information submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) through direct access to USCIS databases and the ability to obtain DACA recipients’ complete files. The new documents contradict multiple past declarations by USCIS — on the DACA application form instructions, on its website, and in lawsuits — that information provided with a DACA application is protected from disclosure to ICE for immigration enforcement except in limited circumstances.

Make the Road New York and Make the Road Connecticut, represented by the National Immigration Law Center, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the federal government hoping to shed light on the motives behind the administration’s decision to terminate the DACA program.

“I applied for DACA and shared my information because USCIS assured me that my information would be protected. It is deeply alarming to know that, under Trump, the deportation machine of ICE has access to this information,” said Carolina Fung Feng, plaintiff in Wolf v. Batalla Vidal, and member of Make the Road New York. “This new information makes it even clearer that if the Supreme Court decides to side with the Trump administration, it will put hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth like me at grave risk. USCIS must commit to stop information-sharing with ICE and not be complicit to Trump’s plan to separate us from our communities. And, in the next recovery negotiations, Congress must act to automatically extend protections for DACA and TPS holders.”

“These new documents provide further evidence of just how out of control Trump’s deportation machine is,” said Barbara Lopez, director of Make the Road Connecticut. “When undocumented youth provided their personal information, USCIS vowed it would not share its information for immigration enforcement purposes. Now we know that, under the Trump administration, ICE has access. As DACA recipients await a decision by the Supreme Court, we demand USCIS commit to end all personal information-sharing with ICE. We must continue to fiercely fight for our communities, and against the deportation and separation of our loved ones.”

“The information reveals what organizers have known for years: the deportation force’s only aim is to keep immigrants looking over our shoulders, living with the fear that the deportation agents would separate us from our families,” said Cynthia Garcia, DACA recipient and deportation defense manager at United We Dream. “The documents also make it crystal clear that the consequence of the Supreme Court potentially siding with Trump on the DACA cases is detention and deportation. But our community is resilient, and an informed community is a powerful one. That is why we will ensure that more immigrants know their rights. The Trump administration has expanded and weaponized ICE and CBP to target, detain, and deport all immigrants, but DACA recipients and our families can take measures to protect ourselves. Our families can download the Notifica app to create a contingency plan for potential interactions with immigration enforcement, and also call United We Dream’s MigraWatch Hotline (1-844-363-1423) to report ICE activity in their community.”

“DHS has consistently promised DACA applicants that it would protect their sensitive personal information from immigration enforcement purposes, with very limited exceptions,” said Trudy Rebert, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “The documents we obtained disturbingly show that ICE can nevertheless access information submitted in DACA applications through shared electronic systems or by ordering it from records — ICE does not appear to have to rely on USCIS to proactively provide the information. We continue to seek more detailed information about the magnitude and impact of this information-sharing. We must ensure that DACA applicants’ information is protected.”


Immigrants in Low-Wage Frontline Jobs Need COVID-19 Protections Now (The Torch)

Immigrant Workers in Low-Wage Frontline Jobs Need COVID-19 Workplace Protections Now

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Holly Straut-Eppsteiner
APRIL 10, 2020

Across the United States, workers doing essential jobs continue reporting to them, keeping grocery shelves stocked and stores sanitized, laboring at construction sites, preparing and delivering packages to our doors, collecting trash and keeping communities clean, and harvesting and processing the food that keeps our supply chains running and our refrigerators stocked. Approximately six million essential workers are immigrants. Yet these workers, who are so integral to our collective health and survival during this unprecedented COVID-19 public health crisis, have been left without meaningful protections for their own health and safety on the job.

Retailers offer workers a patchwork of protections, with some offering masks and gloves, but some employers provide no protection for workers who are face-to-face with hundreds of customers each day. At least four people who worked at grocery stores already have died from COVID-19. Sanitation workers are picking up more trash than ever without masks. Construction workers have described an inability to wash their hands at work, working in cramped conditions, having to share tools, and lacking masks or gloves.

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

Many farmworkers have not received additional protective gear or handwashing stations to protect themselves, have not received adequate information about the virus, and find it difficult to effectively distance themselves from coworkers while in the fields and in crowded housing. At meat and poultry processing plants, workers who labor shoulder-to-shoulder in frigid conditions have continued reporting to work when ill, to avoid receiving disciplinary points for calling in sick. Meat and poultry workers at plants across the South and West have contracted COVID-19, and four have died. Immigrants, women, and people of color disproportionately fill many of these low-wage jobs and find themselves at heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19 while at work.

Undocumented workers and their families are particularly vulnerable because they are unable to access safety-net programs that provide essential health care coverage and nutrition assistance. When employers lay off workers because of COVID-19, those who lack work authorization are ineligible for unemployment insurance even when they’ve paid taxes and their employers have paid into their state’s unemployment insurance system. Despite being taxpayers and filing tax returns, these workers will not receive stimulus payments.

From a health and safety perspective, undocumented workers face high rates of exposure to occupational hazards, but they do not receive higher pay to compensate for that risk relative to other workers. Moreover, their legal precariousness makes undocumented workers hesitant either to file claims when their rights as workers are violated or to demand protections.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act gives all workers the right to safe and healthful working conditions. Employers have a duty to ensure that workplaces are free of known hazards that could harm their employees. Yet while the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have offered employers guidance on COVID-19, no enforceable legal standard or regulation is in place to require employers to take certain minimum steps to protect workers who are on the frontlines of this crisis and risking their health and safety every day. Now more than ever we need policymakers to guarantee that policy responses are inclusive of all our community members — including immigrants.

In the absence of employers or government taking the necessary steps to ensure the safety and health of frontline workers at their jobs, workers have begun to take action on their own. At poultry plants in Virginia and Georgia, workers walked off the job because they fear being exposed to COVID-19 in unsanitary and unsafe working conditions and lack personal protective equipment. In Pittsburgh, sanitation workers went on a wildcat strike to protest lack of protective equipment and to demand hazard pay. Bus drivers planned a strike in Birmingham, Alabama, and a sickout in Detroit.

McDonald’s employees in San Jose, Calif., walked out because “they didn’t even have enough soap to clean their hands.” Whole Foods workers across the country held a sickout demanding paid leave and hazard pay. One thousand meatpacking workers in Colorado walked off the job after ten workers tested positive for COVID-19. These responses reveal the power workers — including immigrants — have when they act together to demand better and safer workplaces.

These bold actions demonstrate the need for the government to act now to protect the people who make up our essential workforce. The federal response to COVID-19 should include reforms that recognize immigrants’ contributions during an unprecedented crisis. All workers deserve to be treated with dignity and have safe and sanitary working conditions so they can go to work each day without fear of risking their lives. Workers have an urgent need for an OSHA standard that provides a legal safeguard requiring employers to take critical steps that will keep workers and their families safe as they keep the country running.

More information about workers’ rights related to COVID-19, including how workers can take action to protect themselves, can be found in “FAQ: Immigrant Workers’ Rights and COVID-19,” published by the National Immigration Law Center, the National Employment Law Project, and the OSH Law Project.

Holly Straut-Eppsteiner is NILC’s Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow and research program manager.

DACA Renewal Guidance in Light of USCIS Office Closures and the Forthcoming U.S. Supreme Court Decision (The Torch)

DACA Renewal Guidance in Light of USCIS Office Closures and the Forthcoming U.S. Supreme Court Decision

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Ignacia Rodriguez Kmec
APRIL 3, 2020

In response to the COVID-19 public health crisis, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has clarified its process for handling Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) renewal requests. According to USCIS’s website, its offices will remain closed at least until June 4.

The Home Is Here campaign’s Informing DACA Recipients and Practitioners Working Group, composed of advocates and immigration legal service providers, has updated guidance for DACA renewal requestors in light of USCIS’s clarified process, which will remain in place while USCIS offices remain closed.


Here’s what you should know:

1. “Wet signatures” (your non-photocopied signature, which you wrote with a pen) are temporarily not required on renewal applications. A person requesting DACA renewal may work with their attorney electronically (for example, using email and video or telephone conferencing) to complete their application, which can then be sent to USCIS by mail, since neither the applicant’s nor the attorney’s signature has to be “wet”; rather, it can be a copy of a signature on a form that was scanned, then emailed or faxed.

2. Request for Evidence (RFE) and Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID) deadlines have been extended.

3. USCIS may now use previously done biometrics to process work permit (employment authorization) renewal requests.

We can’t know for sure how USCIS’s office closures will affect the processing of DACA renewal requests, but we expect this closure may affect processing times. If you decide to apply now, we encourage you to send your application via certified mail to have proof of postmark date and confirmation of when your application arrived to a USCIS lockbox. For more information, we encourage you to read this guidance from Home Is Here.

Nobody knows what will happen with DACA in the next few weeks and months. We are still expecting a Supreme Court decision on the DACA cases by the end of the June 2020, but we don’t know when or how the Court will rule. The COVID-19 pandemic creates an additional layer of fear and uncertainty. Tens of thousands DACA recipients are on the frontlines responding to COVID-19, according to a new Center for Migration Studies report, and they’re unsure if they’ll be able to keep their jobs in a range of fields, including health care, transportation, warehousing, retail, pharmacies, and waste management, if the Court’s ruling leads to the end of DACA.

Advocates and some governors, such as Colorado governor Jared Polis, have asked Congress and the Trump administration to automatically extend work permits to alleviate the stress many are experiencing right now.

In the meantime, for DACA recipients, it feels like it did in June through August 2012, the three months between the announcement and implementation of DACA. During that period, we had some questions answered by USCIS but didn’t know what the program would be like moving forward, and we relied on practitioners with years of experience in other areas of immigration, such as temporary protected status (TPS), for guidance. We learned by doing. We learned by monitoring how USCIS was handling DACA requests and the experiences of our clients, so we’ll do the same now, given these new changes, and share any insights we learn along the way.

Ignacia Rodriguez Kmec is NILC’s immigration policy advocate.

* This article was updated on May 29, 2020, in the following way: In the first paragraph, the date until which USCIS offices will remain closed was changed from “until at least May 3” to “at least until June 4,” based on information on the USCIS webpage to which the phrase hyperlinks.

Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act Targets Crucial Gaps in COVID-19 Relief Legislation

April 3, 2020

Email: [email protected]
Juan Gastelum, 213-375-3149
Hayley Burgess, 202-805-0375

Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act Targets Crucial Gaps in COVID-19 Relief Legislation

WASHINGTON, DC — Members of Congress today introduced legislation, the Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act, that would address urgent needs in immigrant communities not addressed in previous relief packages enacted in response to the COVID-19 public health crisis.

The bill, sponsored by Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) in the U.S. Senate and Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), and Lou Correa (D-CA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, would suspend implementation of the Trump administration’s “public charge” policy; ensure that COVID-19–related services are available to uninsured individuals, regardless of their immigration status; extend economic support to millions of immigrant families excluded from relief in the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act; and prohibit enforcement agencies from carrying out immigration enforcement in locations, such as hospitals and health care centers, where people seek care.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement:

“Immigrants are on the frontlines confronting this public health crisis as workers in the health care sector and as the indispensable people who harvest and prepare our food, deliver our groceries, and care for our loved ones. If we truly want to win this fight against a pandemic that doesn’t discriminate based on a person’s wealth, race, or place of birth, we need Congress to pass policies that ensure immigrants are part of the solution and also receive the health care and economic support everyone needs to get through this crisis.

“The bill  introduced today addresses crucial gaps left in the relief legislation enacted thus far and provides that we all will have access to crucial testing, health care, and economic lifelines. I commend these leaders and other members of Congress who are advancing a more inclusive and equitable vision for America that acknowledges the role of immigrants as protagonists in our recovery from this global catastrophe.”


COVID-19 Doesn’t Discriminate — Neither Should Congress’s Response (The Torch)

COVID-19 Doesn’t Discriminate — Neither Should Congress’s Response

Congress must fix its failure to include millions of people in testing and relief

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Avideh Moussavian and Manar Waheed
APRIL 2, 2020

Congress’s third bill addressing the impacts of COVID-19, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, was a necessary attempt to respond to this public health crisis, but its exclusion of immigrant communities is downright racist and xenophobic. Immigrants were cut out of provisions to ensure COVID-19 testing and care as well as economic relief, undermining our collective safety and economic future. COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate; Congress’s response shouldn’t either. It’s essential that another bill — one that encompasses everyone — be introduced and passed as soon as possible.

There are three major ways in which immigrants were left behind in the CARES Act: testing and care, cash rebates, and unemployment insurance. If recent weeks have highlighted anything, it is just how interdependent we are in confronting a virus that does not discriminate. Our country’s ability to contain this pandemic and the sustainability of our future depends on Congress closing the gaps created by the relief bills enacted to date. Immigrants are serving so many vital roles at the frontlines of our recovery from COVID-19, including the 1.7 million immigrant medical and health care workers caring for COVID-19 patients and the 27,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients working as doctors, nurses, and paramedics. It is both irresponsible and morally unforgivable to pass relief bills that fail to recognize that every person’s health and financial stability are critical.

In its next bill, Congress first must ensure that everyone who needs it receives testing and treatment. This should not even be up for debate. Yet the second COVID-19 relief package, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Families First Act), left out tens of millions of people — including DACA recipients, people with temporary protected status (TPS), certain survivors of crimes (people with U visas), undocumented people, and many lawful permanent residents (people with “green cards”). This bill includes money to support testing for those who are uninsured and not covered by Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Affordable Care Act marketplace, or any other individual or group health plan, but it kept immigrant eligibility restrictions in place.

The Families First Act should have made COVID-19–related services available under emergency Medicaid, so that it would not include the same immigrant eligibility restrictions as nonemergency Medicaid. It should also have ensured that these services would not be counted against a person in assessments of whether they are likely to become a “public charge,” which are effectively wealth tests of people seeking admission to the U.S. as lawful permanent residents or on an immigrant visa.

Unfortunately, both the Families First Act and CARES Act fail to address these gaps, leaving out tens of millions of people from testing and treatment. Some states, such as New York, are including COVID-19 testing, evaluation, and treatment as a part of emergency Medicaid coverage. Community health centers may also help fill this gap. But they may not be able to and shouldn’t have to — the federal response must be as holistic as possible in developing a national policy.

Second, Congress must include all immigrant workers and tax filers in the tax rebate so people can receive vital cash assistance. In the CARES Act, Congress funded cash rebates for recent tax filers based on their taxpayer identification numbers, but limited this to those using Social Security numbers (SSNs). However, many people file their tax returns using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Under the bill, if ITIN users file jointly with a spouse or child with an SSN, everyone in the household will be denied access to the cash assistance. While Congress did create an exception to allow military families to be able to use an ITIN number, this narrow exception only demonstrates that members of Congress understood that they created this cruel carveout and still deliberately chose to leave out millions. As a result, many immigrant workers are put in an increasingly difficult position, cut out of cash assistance and risking their health for essential work without even having access to testing and care.

Third, the bill must provide unemployment insurance for as many people as possible during this crisis. Under federal law, individuals must be work-authorized both for the period of time for which they are claiming unemployment insurance and at the time of filing their claim. However, many immigrant workers awaiting adjudication of immigration benefits or at risk of the looming threat of a loss of immigration status may experience a lapse in their work authorization — perhaps due to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office closures during this crisis. Congress should ensure an automatic extension of work permits for people with DACA or TPS and nonimmigrant visas for the same duration of time as a regular renewal of that work permit, i.e., a two-year extension for DACA recipients. Exacerbating financial hardship will likely make it impossible for these workers and community members to survive, thus harming our short- and longterm recovery efforts.

Congress can and must take up another relief bill to address these significant gaps in order to ensure the well-being of people, families, and communities across the country — and for the future of our nation. And they need to do it now.


  • There may be other options for testing and care. While many immigrants have been left out of the relief packages thus far, there are some options available for immigrants to get tested and treated for COVID-19. Community health centers provide health care to all patients regardless of immigration status typically at a reduced cost or free of charge. Find the closest health center to you at Call the community health center prior to going in person to ensure they are providing COVID-19 testing and care.
  • Testing and care will not impact immigration benefits. USCIS recently posted an alert notifying the public that it will not consider testing, treatment, or preventive care related to COVID-19 of noncitizens as a public charge, so such assistance should not impact their Lawful Permanent Residency or visa applications.
  • Immigration enforcement should not take place at or near health care facilities. On its “Guidance on COVID-19” website, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has stated, “Individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement.” ICE will not carry out enforcement operations “at or near health care facilities such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances,” per the agency’s previously issued sensitive locations memo and reiterated public statement on March 18, 2020. As always, it’s important to know your rights. Learn more about your rights here.

Avideh Moussavian is legislative director for advocacy at the National Immigration Law Center. Manar Waheed is senior legislative and advocacy counsel at the ACLU.