Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

Answers to Common Questions about Immigrants’ Access to the COVID-19 Vaccines (The Torch)

Answers to Common Questions about Immigrants’ Access to the COVID-19 Vaccines

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Ben D’Avanzo, Katherine Lundie, and Gabrielle Lessard
APRIL 12, 2021

People in immigrant communities and advocates have expressed concern about barriers that many people face when attempting to access COVID-19 vaccines. These barriers frequently are related to the concerns immigrants generally have when trying to access health care — concerns about documentation requirements, data privacy, eligibility, cost, and whether resources are available in their native language. This article provides answers to common questions regarding such concerns.

Are there any immigration status restrictions on who can get vaccinated?

No, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that vaccines are available to anyone, including undocumented immigrants, regardless of their immigration status.

Are vaccinations free?

Yes — getting vaccinated should not cost you any amount of money. Individuals may be asked for their insurance information, and their insurer will be billed for the cost of vaccination, but out-of-pocket costs like cost-sharing and deductibles are prohibited. Medicaid will pay for vaccinations for anyone enrolled in Medicaid, including people who have restricted-scope Medicaid (for example, for emergencies or pregnancy).

For the administrative cost of vaccinating people who are uninsured, providers can bill the federal government through the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA’s) Provider Relief Fund. Providers can be reimbursed for vaccinating anyone who doesn’t have insurance that covers the vaccine, regardless of their immigration status.

Providers who participate in the Provider Relief Fund must attest to HRSA in their reimbursement requests that they asked for the following information:

  • a Social Security number (SSN),
  • a driver’s license or other state-issued ID, or
  • a state ID

However, requests for reimbursement may be submitted without this information, though such requests take longer to process. Therefore, though people who are uninsured may be asked for an SSN or ID, they are not required to provide them in order to get vaccinated.

Must I have a Social Security number in order to receive a vaccination?

Having an SSN is not a requirement for receiving a vaccination, but, as noted above, providers may ask you for one.

What types of documentation or verification documents are required to receive a vaccination?

The federal government has not imposed any documentation or verification requirements for individuals seeking to be vaccinated. However, some states and localities are requiring documentation of residency (living in the state or locality). Proof of residency varies by state. Individuals who cannot meet state or local documentation requirements may find that a community health center or other site has more flexible documentation requirements.

Will my personal information be shared with law or immigration enforcement?

The data use and sharing agreement (DUA) between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and jurisdictions administering COVID-19 vaccinations requires that data provided by individuals may be used only in furtherance of the COVID-19 public health response. Some states have elected to add additional privacy protections to the DUA. Information about vaccine recipients may not be used for any civil or criminal prosecution or immigration enforcement. Neither the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) nor the CDC will have access to or release identifiable patient information.

Will immigration officials conduct enforcement activity at vaccination sites or health centers?

No. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has stated that it will not conduct immigration enforcement at vaccination sites and that it wants all immigrants, including people who are undocumented, to be vaccinated.

Will getting vaccinated affect an individual’s immigration status or immigration applications?

Getting vaccinated for COVID-19 will not affect the person’s or their family’s current or future immigration status or ability to naturalize to U.S. citizenship.

Is information about vaccination available in languages other than English?

Yes, the following websites provide information about COVID-19 vaccinations in multiple languages:

Your state’s public health website may also have additional resources in multiple languages. The National Asian Pacific Center on Aging has a webpage listing each state’s vaccination webpage, as well as information about assistance hotlines for speakers of several languages.

What can advocates to do improve immigrants’ access to COVID-19 vaccinations?

Despite the policies described above, many immigrants continue to face barriers to getting vaccinated. Advocates can work with their state and local health departments to undo burdensome documentation restrictions, or, at a national level, urge the CDC to issue nationwide standards prohibiting such requirements. They also can ensure that health departments and vaccine providers understand the existing policies, such as the fact that refusing to provide an SSN should not be grounds for denying vaccination.

Advocates can also push for greater investments in community-based organizations for outreach, education, and services, as well as investments in a higher quality and quantity of language access services and translated materials.

If advocates suspect federal policies are being violated, they can report them to the HHS Office of the Inspector General or file a civil rights complaint with the Office for Civil Rights.

This blog post will be updated as new developments occur — as vaccinations become more available, priority restrictions ease, policies change or are clarified, and vaccine “credentialing” systems (e.g., vaccine “passports”) and apps potentially become more common.

Ben D’Avanzo is a NILC senior health policy analyst; Katherine Lundie is a NILC state and local policy analyst; and Gabrielle Lessard is a NILC senior policy attorney.

Public Charge: Five Things to Know Now (The Torch)

UPDATE – SEP. 22, 2020
On September 22, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services updated its website to state that it would apply the 2019 public charge regulations and related guidance to all applications and petitions postmarked (or submitted electronically) on or after February 24, 2020. It also reposted Form I-944. This announcement follows the Second Circuit’s stay of a U.S. district court injunction that had prevented the regulations from going into effect. Litigation challenging the regulations continues in multiple federal courts.

Public Charge: Five Things to Know Now

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Gabrielle Lessard
AUGUST 31, 2020

Recent decisions by federal courts have significantly altered the “public charge” landscape, creating uncertainty about the extent to which the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) public charge regulations are in effect, but certain issues and facts remain clear.

Legal challenges to the regulations continue in multiple courts. While those cases proceed, plaintiffs in New York asked a federal court to put the regulations on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic. A U.S. district court there granted that request on July 29, 2020. (The district court also issued a nationwide preliminary injunction blocking the U.S. State Department’s public charge regulations. That injunction remains in effect nationwide and is not tied to the pandemic.)

On August 12, 2020, one Second Circuit judge affirmed but narrowed the district court’s order by indicating that the injunction will apply only within the states in the Second Circuit (New York, Connecticut, and Vermont). The federal government is seeking a complete stay of the district court’s order. The government’s motion for a stay will soon be reviewed by a panel of three Second Circuit judges.[*]


The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website currently refers to the nationwide preliminary injunction issued by the district court in New York on July 29, 2020, which prevents USCIS from “enforcing, applying, implementing, or treating as effective” its public charge regulations. The form that applicants would use to provide the information contemplated by the regulations, Form I-944, “Declaration of Self-Sufficiency,” is no longer available on the website. Given the recent order narrowing the injunction, the website message is puzzling

A spokesperson for USCIS told a reporter that the agency was reviewing the order to “determine the administrative viability of reimplementing” the policy in the 47 remaining states. USCIS’s public charge policy is evolving and may change again. But some things remain certain, whether or not the new regulations are in effect.

1. Many categories of immigrants are exempt from the public charge ground of inadmissibility, including refugees; people granted asylum; survivors of trafficking, domestic violence, or other serious crimes (VAWA, T or U visa applicants/holders); and applicants for temporary protected status (TPS). These exemptions are in the immigration statute and cannot be changed by regulations.

2. Inadmissibility to the U.S. based on public charge is assessed when non–U.S. citizens seek permission to enter the U.S. or to become a lawful permanent resident (LPR), i.e., to get a “green card.” There is no public charge assessment when an LPR applies to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

3. Once the regulations go into effect, only the specific programs they list as public benefits can be considered in a public charge determination. Many public programs will not be considered, including health services for children and pregnant women, unemployment insurance, and disaster relief.

4. Most people who face a public charge assessment are not eligible for the benefits that may be considered in this assessment.

5. A public charge assessment looks at a balance of positive and negative factors that make a person likely to depend on the government in the future. People can take action to improve their balance of factors by, for example, pursuing education, job training, or employment. Many community colleges and workforce investment boards offer free or low-cost options.

If you have questions about your situation, consult an immigration lawyer. Organizations that provide free or low-cost legal help can be found at

Gabrielle Lessard is a NILC senior policy attorney.

[*] UPDATE (Sep. 15, 2020): On September 11, 2020, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals stayed a lower court’s nationwide injunction of the DHS public charge rule. This means that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is now free to implement the DHS public charge regulations in all jurisdictions. Litigation on the Trump administration’s public charge rules and policies is ongoing in  multiple federal circuits.





Top 5 Things to Know about DACA Now That the Supreme Court Has Ruled (The Torch)

Top 5 Things to Know about DACA Now That the Supreme Court Has Ruled

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Luis Leyva-Castillo
JUNE 22, 2020

FIRST, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision on June 18, 2020, holding that the Trump administration’s 2017 attempt to terminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was improper.

The Court found that the Trump administration’s 2017 termination of DACA is reviewable and that the administration’s attempt to rescind the program was done improperly and in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. For now, DACA remains available. For more information about the Court’s decision, see Alert: Supreme Court Overturns Trump Administration’s Termination of DACA.

SECOND, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must continue to accept and process DACA renewal applications.

USCIS will continue to accept DACA renewal applications from anyone who previously has had DACA. Visit and the Informed Immigrant website to learn more about how to apply for your renewal and for guidance on how to fund it. There you’ll also find lists of trusted legal service organizations in your area that can help.

THIRD, USCIS should begin accepting initial (first-time) DACA applications as well as applications for advance parole.

The Supreme Court’s June 18 decision vacates the Trump administration’s termination of DACA and leaves in place the 2012 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy memo that first made DACA available. As a result, the Court’s decision requires DHS to again begin accepting first-time DACA applications (applications from people who haven’t applied before) as well as applications for advance parole from people who have DACA and want to travel outside the U.S.

However, we don’t know whether the Trump administration will attempt to act to limit these options. If you meet the guidelines for DACA eligibility but have never had DACA, we recommend you consult with an immigration attorney or an accredited Office of Legal Access Programs (OLAP)–accredited representative as soon as possible before you decide whether to apply. The immigration attorney or accredited representative will be able to give you an individualized assessment of the benefits and risks of applying for DACA and help you gather the necessary materials for the application.

FOURTH, the Trump administration might try again to do away with DACA.

Even though the Court held that the Trump administration’s first attempt to rescind DACA was done improperly, the administration has the power to attempt again to make it unavailable.

FIFTH, this is an important victory, but our fight continues!

Last week, the Supreme Court protected DACA, a form of immigration relief that immigrant youth fought decades for. It’s important to celebrate this victory with our loved ones, but we must continue the fight! We encourage you to visit United We Dream’s website and to join a local or state group working in your community (such as Make the Road New York and RAICES, in Texas) to learn how to get involved and fight for the rights of and protection from deportation for all immigrants, not just those with DACA. You can also help by contributing to United We Dream’s DACA Renewal Fund.

Luis Leyva-Castillo is a rising 2L at the University of New Mexico School of Law, a DACA recipient, and a NILC intern.

Next Senate COVID-19 Bill Must Include 5 Key Immigrant-Inclusive Provisions of House HEROES Act (The Torch)

Next Senate COVID-19 Bill Must Include 5 Key Immigrant-Inclusive Provisions of House HEROES Act

THE TORCH: CONTENTSBy Ignacia Rodriguez Kmec
MAY 28, 2020

When the U.S. Senate returns from recess in early June, your senators will have yet another opportunity to provide crucial relief to people in immigrant communities who, unacceptably, have been left out of the COVID-19 relief bills passed so far. Waiting for them is a $3 trillion measure, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, that the U.S. House of Representatives passed on May 15, 2020, to provide additional economic relief made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic.


While the Senate’s Republican leadership has attempted to slow-walk action on further relief legislation, it is crucial that your senators move swiftly to pass the next relief bill — this time one that includes immigrant communities. The top five immigrant-inclusive provisions approved by the House in its HEROES Act that must be part of any new Senate relief package are:

1. Access by uninsured people, regardless of their immigration status, to free COVID-19 testing and treatment, as well as to any eventual vaccine, through Emergency Medicaid. In order to ensure that immigrants and their family members feel safe accessing these vital services, Congress must suspend the “public charge” wealth test for immigrants and suspend civil immigration enforcement activity.

2. Stimulus checks for immigrant taxpayers left out of previous relief bills — including millions of U.S. citizen spouses and children who were excluded from receiving stimulus checks under the CARES Act because the principal tax-return filer (or, if a couple filed jointly, one of the joint filers) filed their taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) rather than a Social Security number.

3. Automatic extension of work permits and protection from deportation for immigrants, including people with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or temporary protected status (TPS). The HEROES Act would also provide protection from deportation and work authorization to people doing critical infrastructure jobs, including agricultural work, meatpacking, and other types of work.

4. Release of some people from immigration detention and basic care for people in detention. The HEROES Act would require U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to review the files of anyone detained who is not subject to mandatory detention and prioritize their release or provide alternatives to detention. The bill also provides that free and unlimited access to telephones, soap, sanitizer, and other necessary personal hygiene products be provided to people in immigration detention during the pandemic. We encourage Congress to prioritize releasing more people from civil detention custody because tens of thousands of detained immigrants are still languishing in unsafe and inhumane conditions.

5. No additional funding for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and restrictions on DHS’s ability to transfer funds to pay for counterproductive activity. At a time when it is particularly dangerous, irresponsible, and cruel to continue immigration enforcement and detention efforts, we must ensure that no additional funds be made available to Trump’s deportation force.

The global health crisis we are in has revealed starkly just how interconnected we all are as a society and made it clear that, in order to survive and then recover from the crisis and, as a society we must provide relief and solutions that include and protect everyone, regardless of where we were born or how much money we make. The Senate must move swiftly to pass the next relief bill and must ensure that it includes these key provisions of the HEROES Act.

Ignacia Rodriguez Kmec is NILC’s immigration policy advocate.

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.


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.

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.