August 13, 2020 — The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted immigrant populations in the United States, and in particular the Latinx community, that is reported to have higher infection rates, limited access to health services, and face economic hardships. Immigrant communities already have very little to no access to safety net assistance programs such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing assistance and are less likely to have primary care providers. In addition, the pandemic began as the public charge rule was implemented after years of threats leaving families afraid to apply for public benefits. Even with the public charge rule temporarily halted in some states, confusion and fear remain.
The U.S. Congress has left millions of people vulnerable due to the exclusion of immigrant families in relief packages. There are more than 16.7 million mixed status families in the U.S. for whom Congress has not guaranteed protection and support, leaving them limited access to testing and no medical treatment or financial assistance. Immigrants make up a high percentage of essential workers, in comparison to the overall population, increasing the risk of COVID-19 for them and their families. Leaving families unprotected creates risk for everyone in the U.S. Congress must include all persons in the U.S. in its current negotiations for a COVID relief package, regardless of immigration status, to guarantee life and the well-being of all across the country.
Even though the U.S. federal response is dangerous and discouraging for people already living in the country, Central American and Mexican nationals continue to attempt entry through the southern border in search of a safer, more dignified way of life, one that is oftentimes denied to them in their native countries. The pandemic has aggravated the harsh social and economic conditions faced in neighboring countries, including in Nicaragua.
Despite the many systemic challenges in Mexico and Central America including impunity, lack of democratic systems, governability, insecurity, unemployment, food insecurity, lack of education, to name a few, the Trump administration uses the pandemic as an excuse to restrict entry and to leave migrants and asylum seekers stranded in Mexico. Trump continues to push xenophobic measures ahead of the November election to garner votes and secure his base.
The negative impact on the U.S. population is undeniable. Inaction from Congress and the questionable executive orders issued last weekend by President Trump that did not create a concrete benefit, have significant and harmful consequences on the lives of millions of people, not only in the U.S. but also in countries like Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Thousands of families rely on money sent by relatives in the U.S. many of whom are frontline workers exposing themselves to the virus to guarantee their subsistence and that of their families that were left behind in their countries of origin. Immigrants are an integral part of American society. Congressional inaction has consequences on them and their families, in the U.S. and beyond. The breakdown in negotiations and their inability to agree on legislation are leaving immigrant communities vulnerable, especially since they were also excluded from previous relief packages. The responsibility is now in the hands of the U.S. Congress. We are watching.