Activists push for health coverage for undocumented essential workers
CHICAGO—Immigration advocates are shifting their focus to organizing around workers’ rights amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“There are many workers in our community who are front-line and essential workers, but also undocumented,” said Ryan Viloria, Interim Executive Director of Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment (AFIRE) in an email interview with PINOY Newsmagazine.
More than five million undocumented individuals in the U.S. are essential workers.
“Undocumented immigrants are at a high rate of being uninsured which means limited access to health care coverage and ineligibility to enroll in Medicare, Medicaid, or to purchase insurance through the Health Marketplace,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) web site.
“The issues raised for workers’ rights include obtaining lawful permanent status for undocumented frontline workers, paid sick leave at the state level, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and raising the minimum wage,” Viloria added.
200,000 DACA recipients
Individuals who signed up for The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival Act (DACA), recently reinstated by President Biden, are not considered lawfully present and remain ineligible for healthcare coverage options,” says the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
According to a press statement from Sen. Dick Durbin, “there are more than 200,000 DACA recipients who are “essential critical infrastructure workers.”
He stated, “It would be a tragedy to deport these brave and talented essential workers in the midst of this pandemic.” However, the Illinois Department of Health Website encourages undocumented immigrants to get the Covid-19 vaccines.
It states, “All populations in Illinois can receive the vaccine regardless of insurance coverage or immigration status, including individuals who are undocumented.”
It also states, “providers may NOT ask individuals to provide documentation regarding their immigration status.
Access to vaccines
On Feb. 1 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a statement saying, “DHS and its federal government partners fully support equal access to the Covid-19 vaccines and vaccine distribution sites for undocumented immigrants.”
“We [AFIRE] acknowledge that a new administration brings new opportunities to advocate for undocumented immigrants compared to the Trump Administration, but also its own brand of new challenges to overcome as well,” explains Viloria.
“At the federal level, we pay attention to President Biden’s executive orders regarding immigration and essential workers,” he added. “ AFIRE provides resources and connections for immigrants but only virtually at the moment.
“We have had to postpone a minimal amount of programming and our pro bono clinic had to be closed down for Covid -19 safety. In the meantime, AFIRE provides referrals to other immigration attorneys and pro-bono services,” Viloria explains.
President Biden proposed the U.S. Citizenship Rights Act of 2021 on Feb. 18, which will provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. If signed into law, it will immediately issue a green card to immigrants with temporary protected status (TPS), farm workers, and children living in the U.S undocumented.
On Feb. 14, the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM) of 2021 was reintroduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL). However, immigrant advocates are disappointed that it does not provide protection for TPS or eligibility for convicted felons.
DACA recipient Elizabeth Cervantes, in a press release by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) says, “We all deserve relief, not partial relief that excludes or harms others.”
In a press release, ICIRR on Jan. 12 called on the Illinois General Assembly to pass House Resolution 950 authored by Rep. Karina Villa, which provides lawful permanent status for immigrants who have been essential workers during COVID.
Viloria explains that they will maintain political organizing and education focus for undocumented immigrants throughout the year.
“When it becomes safer to reopen and to gather again, we plan to resume traditional community organizing. Lastly, AFIRE will continue working with other organizations and agencies in support of and to protect undocumented immigrants.”
“We now have the first opportunity in over a decade, to offer permanent protections and relief to as many people as possible,” says Lawrence Benito, Executive Director of ICIRR in a press release.