It’s not just undocumented immigrants who could be left out of the stimulus money

Andy Uhler Apr 2, 2020
Stay-at-home orders in California and elsewhere have exempted farmworkers. Above, farmworkers harvest zucchini Wednesday in Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It’s not just undocumented immigrants who could be left out of the stimulus money

Andy Uhler Apr 2, 2020
Stay-at-home orders in California and elsewhere have exempted farmworkers. Above, farmworkers harvest zucchini Wednesday in Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Immigrants with Social Security numbers will be given $1,200 checks as long as they fall below the $75,000 income threshold set in the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed last week. 

The problem is, that doesn’t represent a lot of working immigrants in the United States. 

Up until about a month ago, Rosana Araujo made between $1,500 and $2,000 a month cleaning houses in Miami. That’s no longer the case.

“They canceled all my jobs, and now I don’t have money to pay the rent, I don’t have money to pay the electricity bill,” she said in Spanish.

Araujo said she pays taxes on all her earnings, but she doesn’t have a Social Security number. That means even if she’s paying into the system, she’s not eligible for any public benefits. Which means no COVID-19 check from the government. On top of that, she’s worried about getting sick.

“I’m really scared because if I get sick, I don’t have health insurance,” she said.

The Trump administration has told immigrants that their status would not prohibit them from accessing any COVID-19-related health care.

But Sandra Feist, an immigration attorney in Minneapolis, said many of her clients aren’t buying it. Another uncertainty: Many immigrants say they’re getting a lot of mixed messages about the pandemic from their employers, particularly in agriculture. Stay-at-home orders in California and elsewhere have exempted farmworkers. 

“Homeland Security says that you’re an essential worker, and yet we’re not making sure that they’re staying safe,” Feist said.

And it’s not just undocumented people who could be left out.

“If you’re a U.S. citizen with a Social Security number but on your tax return you’ve got a spouse or a kid and they’re undocumented, then nobody in that household is going to get a check,” said Doug Rand, who worked on immigration policy in the Obama White House as assistant director for entrepreneurship and is now the co-founder of Boundless Immigration, a technology company that helps immigrants obtain green cards and citizenship.

Julia Gelatt at the Migration Policy Institute doesn’t think that’s a mistake.

“I assume that the logic is that the federal government didn’t want payments to be going to unauthorized immigrants in the United States,” she said.

She said this administration is nothing if not consistent with its immigration policy. President Donald Trump has maintained for years that immigrants in the country illegally are a strain on the social safety net.

Undocumented folks paid more than $27 billion in federal, state and local taxes in 2017, according to New American Economy. Legal immigrants contributed even more, almost $380 billion.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?

This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.

Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?

India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

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