Category Archives: Uncategorized

NILC Statement on Biden Administration’s New DACA Regulation

August 24, 2022

Email: [email protected]
Madison Allman, 202-384-1279
Emily Morris, 213-457-7458

NILC Statement on Biden Administration’s New DACA Regulation 

WASHINGTON — Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement in response to the Biden administration’s newly released regulation on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy:

“For more than ten years, DACA has positively transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of immigrant youth and their communities. We welcome the Biden administration’s continued efforts to ensure that DACA recipients can remain here in the country they call home. While the Biden administration’s new rule sends a clear message that DACA works, our communities need more.

“Strengthening DACA is a crucial step, but it is not a substitute for congressional action. Congress must pass a permanent solution, not only for DACA recipients, but for as many immigrant youth as possible. As we continue to fight back politically motivated attacks on DACA, we urge the administration to move swiftly to implement the new rule and ensure a measure of stability for hundreds of thousands of our community members whose home is here.”


NILC and SPLC Win Class Certification in Lawsuit Alleging ICE and IRS Agents Violated Workers’ Civil Rights During Workplace Raid

August 11, 2022

National Immigration Law Center, Emily Morris, [email protected], 213-457-7458
Southern Poverty Law Center, Anna Núñez, [email protected], 334-201-9236

NILC and SPLC Win Class Certification in Lawsuit Alleging ICE and IRS Agents Violated Workers’ Civil Rights During Workplace Raid

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A federal court in Tennessee has cleared the way for a collective federal civil rights action brought on behalf of over 100 Latino workers against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents involved in the planning and execution of a racially-motivated workplace raid at a Tennessee meat processing plant, on April 5, 2018.  Earlier this week, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee granted class certification in Isabel Zelaya, et al. v. Robert Hammer, et al, a lawsuit alleging ICE and IRS agents violated workers’ civil rights.

The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), along with their co-counsel, sought class certification on behalf of approximately 100 Latino workers who were unlawfully targeted for arrest on the basis of their race and ethnicity on April 5, 2018, in what was the largest workplace immigration raid in nearly a decade. Agents from ICE, the IRS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Tennessee Highway Patrol, and the Morristown Police Department carried out the raid. The federal lawsuit alleges claims of conspiracy to violate workers’ equal protection rights, excessive force, and false arrest.  

The court, in granting the workers’ motion for class certification, ruled that Plaintiffs satisfied all class action requirements, and that the class action is likely the only way over one-hundred Latino workers impacted during the raid could bring these claims. The court found the Plaintiffs submitted evidence suggesting that each class member was allegedly harmed through the execution of a single plan orchestrated by the IRS and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Additionally, the court found that “in the run-up to the Raid, case agents frequently discussed arresting Hispanic workers and conflated Hispanic ethnicity with illegal status,” noting that ‘“the initial plan for the Raid indicated that ‘Hispanics’ will be processed through HSI/ERO procedures,” and that Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) ‘anticipate[d] working late into the evening processing the Hispanics the day of the warrant.’” 

The court also noted that the evidence to date showed that “No white workers were arrested on the day of the Raid,” but that the “individuals arrested that day and transported to the Armory were uniformly Hispanic,” and that agents “detained the Latino employees — even those who asserted they had valid work authorizations — and transported them to the Morristown Armory on vans.”

The ruling means that over 100 Latino class members may now proceed collectively to prosecute this civil rights case against ICE and IRS agents as the case enters the summary judgment phase this fall.  

The following statements are provided by:

Michelle Lapointe, senior staff attorney, National Immigration Law Center

“This raid was conducted in an unnecessarily violent, humiliating and demeaning manner toward Latino workers. Plaintiffs seek justice on behalf of all Latino workers detained during the raid. We are pleased the court will allow the case to proceed as a class action, and look forward to proving our claims in court.”

Meredith Stewart, senior supervising attorney for the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center

“As class counsel, we look forward to defending the constitutional rights of each class member whom the federal agents unlawfully targeted for enforcement during the Raid. The Constitution protects all people from law enforcement overreach, and the class members look forward to vindicating those rights in Court. This week’s ruling is a significant step in our fight for justice for our clients and their families.”



Zelaya et al. v. Miles et al. was filed on Feb. 21, 2019.  Plaintiffs are represented by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), pro bono attorneys Eben P. Colby, Jeremy A. Berman, Arthur R. Bookout and the law firms of Sherrard, Roe, Voigt & Harbison and Sperling & Slater. On April 5, 2018, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Morristown Police Department, executed the largest workplace immigration raid in nearly a decade, detaining approximately 100 Latino workers at an east Tennessee meat processing plant, violating their civil rights. 

NILC Celebrates Senate Passage of Health and Climate Bill, Rejection of Anti-Immigrant Agenda

August 7, 2022

Email: [email protected]
Madison Allman, 202-384-1279
Emily Morris, 213-457-7458

NILC Celebrates Senate Passage of Health and Climate Bill, Rejection of Anti-Immigrant Agenda 

WASHINGTON — Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement upon Senate passage of the Inflation Reduction Act — landmark health and climate legislation: 

“Today is a historic day for our country and for our planet. While far from perfect, this bill promises to take major steps towards bolstering the health of our communities and ensuring that future generations will have a more sustainable world to live in. Importantly, the Senate sent a clear message that hate and xenophobia have no place in our society by voting down every anti-immigrant amendment, including amendments that would have codified the Trump administration’s Title 42 asylum ban. We commend Majority Leader Schumer for his leadership in keeping the Democratic caucus united around delivering this legislation. We are especially thankful to Senators Menendez and Padilla, who stood up as our champions to advocate boldly on behalf of asylum seekers and low-income immigrant communities throughout the process.

“We urge the House to move quickly to pass this legislation, and for President Biden to sign it into law. We stand ready to continue to support our partners and allies in the climate justice and healthcare sectors as they work to make our communities at home and abroad safer, healthier, and more sustainable. We look forward to partnering with the Biden administration, Congress, and stakeholders across civil society to take positive, constructive action on a host of immigration issues, including by passing legislation that would provide permanent protections for DACA recipients.”


NILC Statement Urging Democrats to Reject Harmful Anti-Immigrant Amendments in Crucial Reconciliation Bill

August 2, 2022

Email: [email protected]
Madison Allman, 202-384-1279
Emily Morris, 213-457-7458

NILC Statement Urging Democrats to Reject Harmful Anti-Immigrant Amendments in Crucial Reconciliation Bill

WASHINGTON — Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement ahead of the upcoming deliberation in Congress on a health care and climate bill:

“With Congress poised to act on unprecedented legislation that addresses critical issues facing our communities on healthcare and our planet due to increasing climate disasters, lawmakers must reject any attempt to poison this historic legislation with unrelated, harmful immigration amendments.

“Democratic leaders must be unequivocal and ensure any anti-immigrant amendments are kept out of this bill, including opposing any final version that departs from the climate and healthcare deal to codify the Trump administration’s Title 42 asylum ban.

“For years, Republicans have repeatedly blocked efforts to pass real legislative solutions to update our dysfunctional immigration system. Capitulating to their politically motivated scapegoating of immigrants, and allowing them to use a climate and health care bill to block people seeking safety and freedom, would be unconscionable.

“A deal’s a deal, and there’s no reason to allow political gamesmanship to poison this legislation with anti-immigrant provisions that would harm our country.”


NILC Statement on Court Decision in Pars Equality Center v. Pompeo  

August 2, 2022

Email: [email protected],
Madison Allman, 202-384-1279
Emily Morris, 213-457-7458

NILC Statement on Court Decision in Pars Equality Center v. Pompeo  

WASHINGTON — After a federal court ruled that the Biden administration must undo the harms of the Muslim and African Bans and reconsider denied visa applications, Max Wolson, staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, issued the following statement:

“This momentous victory is a result of tireless organizing by communities around the country and will have profound impact on those whose lives and livelihoods have been derailed by the Muslim and African bans. Now, we look to the Biden administration to do the right thing by living up to its promises, redressing the ongoing harms of these discriminatory bans, and finally establishing a fair process to ensure that people denied opportunities and relief in the U.S. no longer have to live in limbo.”


Families, Civil Rights Organizations Celebrate Court Decision that U.S. Government Must Redress Muslim Ban Harms 

August 2, 2022

Madison Allman, NILC, [email protected], 202-384-1279
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, [email protected]

Families, Civil Rights Organizations Celebrate Court Decision that U.S. Government Must Redress Muslim Ban Harms 

Federal court rules Biden administration must undo the harms of the Muslim and African Bans and proactively reconsider denied visa applicants 

No Muslim Ban Ever Coalition of over 100 Muslim and immigrants’ rights groups hails decision, mobilizes to hold Biden administration accountable to ruling

SAN FRANCISCO – While families remain separated by the Trump administration’s racist and Islamophobic Muslim and African Bans, a federal court in San Francisco ruled in Pars Equality Center, et. al. v. Pompeo, et. al. that the Biden administration must  undo the harms of the Bans. 

The Biden administration must now meet with the plaintiffs to establish a fair and effective process to reopen and reconsider applications from people who were denied family reunification, jobs and educational opportunities, and medical treatment as a result of the Bans and the current administration’s protracted refusals to redress the lasting harms, even after rescinding the Bans on President Biden’s first day in office. 

“Our clients have been living in legal limbo for years, unable to live full, abundant lives, pursue their careers, and start a family,” said Paris Etemadi Scott, Legal Director at Pars Equality Center, which brought the lawsuit with others in 2018. “Communities in every part of the U.S. and in countries around the world are celebrating: the Biden administration must finish the work of their rescission and end the shameful discrimination that people from Muslim-majority and African countries have faced, simply because of where they were born. This decision shows the power of relentless community organizing for what’s right.” 

With offices spread across California, Pars Equality Center provides extensive social and legal services to Iranian Americans, Persian-speaking, and other underserved immigrant communities. Since the Biden administration rescinded the Bans, dozens of the center’s clients have endured an indefinite state of limbo. As a result of the ruling, the U.S. government has been ordered to quickly remedy the lasting harms of the Bans with a clear and legitimate process.

In the wake of the ruling, the No Muslim Ban Ever Coalition, the largest national grassroots coalition focused on rescinding the Bans, is mobilizing to ensure the Biden administration effectively and swiftly implements the court’s ruling. The coalition continues to advocate for the NO BAN Act, which would limit dangerously broad authority in U.S. immigration law so that no future president can issue bans that bar the entry of people based on their religion or national origin. 

Prior to rescission, more than 41,800 individuals and families have been denied visas and waivers under the Muslim and African Bans without notice of the process, an opportunity to submit evidence or file for reconsideration. Despite the Biden administration’s rescission of the Bans, families remain separated and caught in a black hole of administrative delays, with little information or clarity and no recourse to repair the damage. More than 34,800 people signed a petition in the past year urging the Biden administration to allow all individuals who were denied entry by the Bans their fair shot at immigration.

Pars Equality Center and community members from Muslim-majority countries were represented by the National Immigration Law Center, Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, Council on American-Islamic Relations – California, Iranian American Bar Association, and Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP.

Additional details and documents related to the case, Pars Equality Center, et. al. v. Pompeo, et. al., can be found here:


Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Understanding of the Power of Language Is a Welcome Addition to the Supreme Court (The Torch)

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Understanding of the Power of Language is a Welcome Addition to the Supreme Court


APRIL 7, 2022

At the recent hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) asked Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson about her seemingly “conscious choice” to avoid harmful language in her legal writings to acknowledge the inherent humanity of all people who come before her court, including immigrants.

“Judges are the only branch of government who are required to write our opinions, to explain our decisions,” Judge Jackson responded. “I have long believed, in that capacity, that our clarity and language matters.”

Judge Jackson’s clear understanding of the power of naming in the pursuit of equal justice under the law only further demonstrates the urgent need to confirm her to the United States Supreme Court.

Photo on Wikimedia Commons

As a federal judge, Judge Jackson has grappled with difficult legal questions with significant impact on immigrant communities. In each of these cases, Judge Jackson did what we would want and expect any good judge to do—weigh the facts of each case with relevant law and precedent to render a decision.

While not all her decisions have been favorable to immigrants, she has consistently and deliberately forgone the use of terms like “illegal” or “alien” when describing immigrants in all her cases. Writing in two separate cases concerning immigration policy, Judge Jackson rejected the dehumanizing terms, which historically appear in statutes and other legal writings, and instead used the terms “undocumented” and “non-citizen.”

Some may not immediately realize the significance of this intentional use of language. But for those of us fighting for immigrant justice, it’s a noteworthy and encouraging shift with consequences that reverberate beyond the courtroom.

Anti-immigrant forces have long weaponized dehumanizing language to advance their political interests. No one in recent history has done so to greater effect than Donald Trump, whose extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric represented the culmination of decades of escalating efforts to scapegoat immigrants, stoke fear, and divide Americans to retain power.

Advocates for immigrants’ rights, in contrast, have worked for years to push lawmakers to drop the use of these de-humanizing terms. These successful efforts have prompted local governments to remove such terms from official documents and sparked debates at federal agencies about doing the same, including the Library of Congress. Within months of taking office, President Biden directed immigration agencies to stop using “illegal alien” in favor of “undocumented non-citizen.”

Advocates have similarly pushed news organizations to rethink their language. In 2013, the Associated Press, whose stylebook is often referenced by other newsrooms, decided to stop using “illegal” to describe a person. And while debates about language continue in newsrooms, other news organizations have made similar editorial decisions.

The truth is that naming does matter. And when it comes to the law, it matters even more.

Throughout history, the Court has influenced American culture and public opinion – for better and worse – through its use of language. Decisions in Dred Scott and Plessy, for example, each used language that dehumanized Black Americans to legitimize and perpetuate the racist and unequal treatment of Black people. Both rulings are now broadly regarded as some of the Court’s gravest errors. But language can also accelerate greater social change, as was the case with Obergefell and the advancement of marriage equality for LGBTQ people. A justice who understands the power of language in the law is a welcome addition to the Court.

As a member of the federal judiciary and potentially of our nation’s highest court, Judge Jackson’s interpretation of the law and her writings will set a framework for future jurists. Her insistent rejection of dehumanizing anti-immigrant terms has major ripple effects beyond the letter of the law. After all, it’s the presence of these terms in our laws that are often cited in other spaces to justify their continued use.

Senators who are truly interested in fulfilling their constitutional duty to vet the Supreme Court nominee’s qualifications should take note. Confirming a justice who understands the power of naming and has consistently recognized the humanity and dignity of all people is not only a welcome addition to the Court, it’s monumental for the advancement of immigrant justice and human rights.

Lisa Graybill is NILC’s Legal Director.

Why is the Government Defending Racist Laws? (The Torch)

Why is the Government Defending Racist Laws?

MARCH 23, 2022

Initially, the Biden administration took some positive pro-immigrant first steps, such as ordering a review of federal immigration policy to develop “welcoming” policies, directing federal agencies to cease using dehumanizing terms, and rescinding the discriminatory Muslim and African Bans. While the administration has made important progress, it has also taken a number of steps backward. Unbeknownst to many, the Muslim and African Bans, for example, continue to harm tens of thousands of people as the Department of Justice continues to defend their lasting impacts.

A particularly disheartening contradiction is currently taking place in courtrooms across America. Even as the government’s lawyers refrain from using offensive language, they continue to pursue numerous prosecutions against immigrants by relying upon a criminal law with undeniably racist origins and impact.

Modern immigration law has its roots deeply intertwined with openly racist sentiments.  Notoriously, the Chinese Exclusion Act – an infamous law brought about by white nativists in the late 1800s – was one of the first immigration restrictions the United States enacted. While some prior racist policies have ended, today’s immigration law remains rife with racially targeted restrictions and punishments.

One of the most striking examples of that residual racism is the statute criminalizing returning to the U.S. after being removed. Under that statute, a person may be sentenced to federal prison for as many as 20 years for the mere act of returning to the U.S. When enacted in the 1920s, that statute was explicitly intended to advance white supremacist eugenics goals. A century later, those original racist intentions continue to align exactly with how the statute is still used today—with Latinx people making up 99 percent of those convicted today.

The Unconstitutionality of the Illegal Reentry Statute

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees all the equal protection of federal law, and courts will hold unconstitutional those federal laws that passed with discriminatory intent. Laws that begin with a discriminatory intent remain unconstitutional if reenacted without Congress addressing the prior discrimination. Congress has never acknowledged the racist basis of the illegal reentry law, let alone sought to definitively undo it. Simultaneously, the statute has become one of the leading drivers of federal prosecutions and incarcerations, punishing hundreds of thousands of immigrants over decades.

Federal public defenders across the country have sought to protect their clients from the racist reentry statute. Specifically, they have presented trial courts with evidence of the statute’s racist intentions and the dramatically disproportionate conviction rates for Latinx people.

At last, on August 25, 2021, a federal district court agreed. In United States v. Carrillo-Lopez, Judge Miranda Du of the District of Nevada issued a powerful ruling, in which she articulated the unconstitutional origins and impacts of the reentry statutes in great detail, and dismissed a prosecution as a result.

Judge Du explained how the statute was originally grounded in racism and agreed that that intent continued when Congress reenacted the law in 1952. Judge Du noted extensive evidence that confirmed this offensive intent and explained that the statute presently continues to harm the same targeted populations.

The Government Continues to Defend the Racist Reentry Statutes

Following Judge Du’s ruling, the next step for an administration committed to equal justice should have been quite simple: do nothing. Judge Du’s convincing opinion provided every reason for the government to abandon using these racially motivated and applied statutes.

They chose not to.

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

Shortly after Judge Du’s ruling, the Biden administration appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Simultaneously, the Biden administration continues to defend another Ninth Circuit appeal where the judge ruled in the opposite direction. The stakes of this escalation are dramatic: a ruling contrary to Judge Du’s could close the door to future challenges to a law plainly rooted in white supremacist ideology in the nation’s largest circuit.

While the government’s decision to continue this fight is itself problematic for racial justice, the specifics of the government’s arguments are even worse.

First, the government has argued that the courts should be lenient in determining whether the statute really was racist, applying “rational basis review.”  The government takes the stance that it does not matter that the statute was passed with openly racist intent because the racist language itself wasn’t included in the law’s actual text.

Second, the government has argued that the “plenary power” doctrine justifies its actions. The plenary power doctrine provides that courts have few, if any, powers to assess federal immigration laws. The doctrine’s origins are as disturbing as the origin of the reentry statute. The Supreme Court first deployed the doctrine in 1889 to uphold a law that expanded a prior ban on Chinese nationals immigrating to the U.S., using openly racist language casting Chinese nationals as “invaders” and a “danger to the country.”

Taking a look at the government’s sole supporter in the Ninth Circuit case reveals further shamefulness of its actions. Only an anti-immigrant hate group has filed a brief in support of the government’s position.

The Movement Responds

In contrast, a broad coalition of movement organizations has joined in the fight to uphold Judge Du’s correct determination that the reentry statutes are unconstitutional. On March 21, dozens of organizations filed briefs in the Ninth Circuit providing further details on the racist origins and impacts of the laws.

The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) is proud to have been among those organizations. In a brief drafted along with LatinoJustice PRLDEF, and which four other nonprofit organizations signed, NILC provided additional detail about the harms the reentry statutes inflict upon Latinx people and their communities.

Data discussed in NILC’s brief indicate that the reentry statute represents one of the offenses most likely to result in incarceration. Once incarcerated, non-citizens experience harsher jail sentences because they are ineligible for lower security facilities and numerous rehabilitative and educational programs. They are also nearly certain to be removed from the country. Moreover, the dramatic incarceration rate combines with involving local and federal law enforcement in immigration enforcement to further racial profiling of communities of color.

While NILC and its allies proudly stand together in this fight, we are dismayed that this fight is even necessary. If the Biden administration is committed to a just and humane immigration system and correcting the system’s past racist harms, it needs to stop defending this law.

Max Wolson is a NILC Staff Attorney.

We Need for Congress to Pass the LIFT the BAR Act (The Torch)

We Need for Congress to Pass the LIFT the BAR Act

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Katherine Lundie

In the coming months, Congress will have the opportunity to rectify a decades-old injustice and take a big step toward achieving racial equity by passing the LIFT the BAR Act (full name: Lifting Immigrant Families through Benefits Access Restoration Act of 2021).

Twenty-five years ago, Congress radically transformed U.S. immigration and public assistance laws for the worse. Swayed by racist stereotyping of immigrants and low-income communities, Republicans and a majority of Democrats in Congress passed a “welfare reform” law called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). PRWORA replaced the former safety-net program that served families with children and imposed new restrictions on program eligibility. The law also imposed severe restrictions on immigrants’ eligibility for public benefits, including a five-year ban on receiving major federal benefits for most “qualified“ immigrants.

Thanks to decades of leadership by immigrants and allies, states and localities have stepped in to address the well-being of low-income immigrants — but much more needs to be done. Our communities are healthier and stronger when all of us have access to services that meet our basic needs, and immigrants are essential in our collective efforts to fight and recover from the  COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s why we need Congress to pass the LIFT the BAR Act.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

The legacy of the 1996 welfare law and Trump administration policies

Together with punitive changes to immigration law that also were enacted in 1996, PRWORA engendered confusion and fear among immigrants and their U.S. citizen family members. Participation in public benefits programs dropped dramatically after PRWORA was enacted, causing serious hardship for many low-income families who were ineligible for public programs because of their immigration status. PRWORA did more to create overall dysfunction in benefits access than to alleviate poverty. Decades later, the Trump administration invoked this law in defending its revision of rules regarding “public charge,” which threatened the health and well-being of low-income immigrants and their family members and undermined their ability to succeed.

The Trump administration spared no effort to chip away at immigrants’ access to health and economic supports. When crafting federal policy, it borrowed heavily from the racist, xenophobic, and classist tropes from the 1990s to promote fear-based policies like its 2019 public charge rule. Even though the rule is no longer in effect, many immigrant families still hesitate to enroll in critical health care, job-training, nutrition, and cash assistance programs due in part to fear and confusion created by the rule. Between 2018 and 2019, participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dropped by 22.5 percent — that is, by more than 718,000 children — among U.S. citizen children in households that include a non–U.S. citizen. Studies also show that the Trump administration’s public charge rule likely caused 2.1 million essential workers and household members to forgo Medicaid.

It’s time to remedy past mistakes and restore and expand access to essential services

The LIFT the BAR Act takes critical steps toward advancing equity in access to federal assistance at a time when many communities desperately need it. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every facet of American life, and the immigrant community has been disproportionately harmed by the virus’s health and economic impacts. The bill would eliminate the five-year bar and other restrictions on immigrants’ access to federal means-tested benefit programs — such as Medicaid, SNAP, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

The bill would restore access to these and other federal public benefit programs for all lawfully present immigrants, including people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or temporary protected status (TPS), and people with other statuses that exclude them from eligibility. It removes barriers to enrollment related to immigrants’ sponsors. And it offers states and localities more flexibility to use their own funds to provide benefits to otherwise ineligible immigrants. More information is available in this NILC factsheet, and the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign has created a resource page about the bill.

If passed, the bill will be a welcome source of relief for state policymakers who already have demonstrated their commitment to support their immigrant residents. Since 1996, many state governments have used their limited budgets to make programs more inclusive — in many cases regardless of their residents’ immigration status. Illinois became the first state in the nation to provide public health coverage to all low-income immigrant seniors over the age of 65, regardless of their immigration status. California passed a law that will extend health coverage to low-income adults, ages 50  and over. In Virginia, legislators removed the 10-year work requirement, also known as the “40 quarter rule,” that severely restricted immigrant residents’ eligibility for Medicaid. While the LIFT the BAR Act would restore access to federal benefits for lawfully present immigrants, it also would allow states and localities to shift resources to offer essential care to their community members regardless of their immigration status.

The nation’s public health and economic recovery depends on ensuring that all members of our communities have access to health coverage and assistance. The legacy of PRWORA and the Trump administration’s animus toward immigrants exposed the flaws in public assistance programs and weakened the country’s ability to respond to the largest public health crisis in over a century. Congress now has an opportunity to address some of our country’s entrenched racial, wealth, and health disparities and to forge a path to economic security and improved health outcomes. Our country should be one in which everyone has access to the support they need to thrive. It’s time to pass the LIFT the BAR Act.

Katherine Lundie is a NILC state and local policy analyst.

Emergency COVID Grants Are Now Available to Immigrant Students (The Torch)

Emergency COVID Grants Are Now Available to Immigrant Students

MAY 27, 2021

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) recently finalized new federal regulations and accompanying frequently-asked-questions (FAQ) guidance that remove the Trump administration’s unfair and unlawful restrictions denying undocumented and other immigrant students access to COVID-19–related emergency financial assistance grants under the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). Under the new rule, previously excluded students are now eligible for these emergency grants, which are provided to help students remain in school and cover unexpected “cost of attendance” expenses and other related costs imposed by the pandemic.

Photo by heylagostechie on Unsplash

Whom do the new rules impact? Under the new rule and FAQ, undocumented students, people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or temporary protected status (TPS), international students, and other immigrant students who were previously excluded from eligibility now may receive the emergency grants. This change does not affect the eligibility of those who previously qualified (such as lawful permanent residents, refugees, or asylees).

Specifically, the ED has redefined which students qualify for HEERF emergency grants under the regulations (34 C.F.R. sec. 677.3) as any individual who is or was enrolled at an eligible institution on or after March 13, 2020, the day President Trump declared that COVID-19 is a national emergency. In short, the only requirement to receive the HEERF grants is enrollment, as of or after March 13, 2020, at a qualifying institution of higher education as defined under 34 C.F.R. secs. 600.2 and 677.3 — i.e., colleges, universities, proprietary higher education institutions, and postsecondary vocational institutions.

What, exactly, are HEERF emergency grants? In March 2020, Congress created HEERF through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to help both educational institutions and students “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” The subsequent Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 (CRRSAA) and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP) allocated additional funding for HEERF.

Despite Congress’s clear intent to provide broad emergency relief to students, the Trump administration’s Department of Education, under Secretary Betsy DeVos, published regulations and corresponding agency guidance that improperly excluded many immigrant students from receiving the HEERF emergency grants. In all four court cases that swiftly challenged the regulations and guidance, the courts agreed that DeVos had unlawfully superimposed immigration status requirements onto the HEERF program.

The ED’s new rule and FAQ guidance restore the emergency financial relief that Congress originally intended to provide to students experiencing hardship and other impacts during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

How are the HEERF emergency grants distributed? Under the various pandemic-related legislative packages, Congress authorized the ED to distribute HEERF funds to higher education institutions, which in turn provide the emergency grants directly to students. Institutions must ensure that they prioritize students who have exceptional need and must not distribute the grants in a way that discriminates on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, or sex (FAQ question 10).

How can HEERF emergency grants be used? Students may use the grants to cover unexpected “cost of attendance” expenses or other emergency costs resulting from the pandemic, such as food, housing, technology, course materials, tuition, health care (including mental health care), or child care (FAQ question 13). Institutions may not direct or further limit what students use their grants for; compel students to use their grants to satisfy existing fees, debts, or balances; nor impose any conditions to receive the grants (such as any academic or other performance criteria or “good standing” requirements) (FAQ questions 12 and 14).

What are other considerations to keep in mind? First, HEERF emergency grants are not taxable income (FAQ question 15). As explained by the Internal Revenue Service, HEERF emergency grants, like other emergency educational assistance measures, are not included in a student’s gross income and, therefore, are not taxable. Also, HEERF emergency grants are not financial aid (FAQ question 17). To receive the grants, students do not have to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or be eligible for “federal financial aid” under Title IV. As stated above, the only requirement to receive the HEERF grants is enrollment at a qualifying institution as of or after March 13, 2020. Consequently, institutions may not incorporate the HEERF emergency grant into a student’s overall financial aid award package (FAQ question 17).

Finally, receipt of a HEERF grant is not considered in determining whether a person is likely to become a “public charge.” Under the 1999 Field Guidance for immigration officials and relevant Foreign Affairs Manual instructions (for U.S. State Department officials), neither emergency disaster relief nor educational assistance is considered in a public charge determination.

What comes next? If you are a student newly eligible for a HEERF grant, be on the lookout for more information from your school on disbursement and other next steps. As mentioned above, educational institutions are tasked with dispensing the HEERF grants directly to students, and, therefore, this process and the timeline for disbursement will look different at every school. If your school or college/university system has an immigrant student support “Dream” center or equivalent, check with it to obtain more guidance. For example, the University of California system has a list of resources and contacts, as does the California State University system.

Questions? Feedback? Email us at [email protected].

Sarah Kim Pak is a NILC staff attorney.