As of July 9, 2020 over 3 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 have lost their lives. The pandemic has shown disproportionate impacts on low-income immigrants as many continue to be on the front lines as essential workers. Unfortunately, millions of immigrants are left out under federal relief efforts.
To stem the virus’ impacts, everyone must have a fair shot at getting through the crisis healthy and whole. Given that the federal government has failed to adopt an inclusive approach, it is imperative that states prioritize hardest hit communities and take actions to support immigrants and their families.
Our new policy brief, titled State Options to Provide COVID-19 Testing, Treatment & Vaccination for Uninsured Immigrants, offers a list of policy ideas for state policymakers to consider when working to support immigrants and their families throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, we recommend the following top three priorities:
Ensure everyone have access to no-cost testing, treatment and preventive services for COIVD-19 regardless of their immigration status. There are a number of pathways states can take to maximize federal resources for immigrants and their families. For instance, states can leverage their administrative authority to clarify the definition of emergency Medicaid to include COVID-19 services. A number of states have taken this path, though there are differences in their interpretation regarding scope of services.
Support immigrants and their families beyond health care so they are able to adhere to prevention practices without compromising basic needs. The COVID-19 pandemic is not affecting everyone in the same way. Across the country, low-income immigrants are not only at risk for experiencing serious illness if they become infected with the virus, but many— especially undocumented immigrants—are struggling to put food on the table or pay rent or other essential utilities. States should work to remove all requirements that create barriers for immigrants to have access to public benefits like cash assistance, food security, unemployment benefits and housing vouchers. In addition, states should ensure that information about the state’s response to COIVD-19 adequately meets the language access needs of people who do not speak English as their primary language.
Provide a safe environment for immigrants and their families to receive health care services without fear of immigration enforcement. Due to increased immigration enforcement around the country, immigrants are fearful of seeking health care services for COVID-19. States should work with trusted community-based organizations that have deep connections with immigrant communities to conduct outreach and education campaigns to spread information about available services safe from police and Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) harassment.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlights our interdependence—we are all at risk when anyone is left behind. Immigrants will continue to be vital in our recovery as a nation, and this crisis has created an opening and urgency for fundamental changes in how we care for one another as a society. Policymakers have the responsibility to ensure that everyone, regardless of where they were born, has access to economic support, health care and other supports they need to thrive.