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

Farmworkers harvest zucchini on April 1 in Florida.

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

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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.

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