Congressman Panetta Cosponsors Legislation to Provide Critical Assistance to Immigrant Communities Impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic

April 6, 2020
Press Release

SALINAS, CA – Today, Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) announced that he cosponsored the Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act to help ensure that all community members, regardless of immigration status, are able to access COVID-19 testing and treatment, and other relief services provided in coronavirus relief legislation.  The legislation would provide dedicated funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct public outreach in multiple languages to hard-to-reach populations to ensure that vulnerable communities have access to COVID-19 relief measures and critical public health information.

The bill would also temporarily modify immigration policies that deter immigrants from receiving the medical care they need throughout the coronavirus pandemic, such as the public charge rule.  This rule has had a widespread chilling effect in discouraging even those not subject to the rule from seeking health care and other critical services due to confusion and fear about the rule’s impact.

Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27), Congressman Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), and Congressman Lou Correa (CA-46) are the lead sponsors of the bill.  Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

“This pandemic illustrates what we on the Central Coast already know in that so many medical, farm, and hospitality workers are not just essential today, but so skilled and so necessary to our everyday health and prosperity.  We must ensure that those workers, regardless of their immigration status, have access to health, nutrition, and financial aid during this crisis and that they are not afraid to seek or use these necessary resources,” said Congressman Panetta.  “The Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act would ensure that all community members during these difficult times have access to the critical resources of our nation.”

“As coronavirus has upended all our lives, we in Congress have rushed to provide the necessary relief to help our whole economy survive this crisis. But you cannot do that by excluding entire segments of the population. This virus does not care about immigration status. It does not discriminate and neither should we. Immigrants own businesses and homes, support families, and pay rent, and contribute to their communities. And most importantly, immigrants have the same healthcare needs we all do, but face restrictions or adverse actions if they access healthcare,” Congresswoman Chu said. “That is simply wrong, especially during a pandemic. All immigrants should have access to healthcare, receive the same benefit we are sending to everyone else, and have the ability to work so they can stay healthy, afford food, and pay rent. That is why we have introduced this bill today to correct the gaps in previous legislation, and ensure everybody has an equal opportunity to survive this crisis.”

“Immigrant workers are working in many of the essential jobs keeping our communities and the economy running during this uncertain time,” Congressman Grijalva said. “COVID-19 does not care about your immigration status,  so neither should our response. This legislation prohibits discrimination when accessing COVID-19 relief programs and focuses on getting important economic assistance to all families—regardless of their immigration status—while expanding the nation’s ability to control the virus and recover economically.”

“I was appalled to learn hardworking, taxpaying immigrants were left out of the $2 trillion CARES Act. These taxpayers work in critical sectors of our economy, like agriculture, and contribute greatly to our country. While many of us sit at home, these hardworking immigrants are still at work in our hospitals, our fields, and countless other industries,” Congressman Correa said. “The coronavirus doesn’t care about a person’s wealth, job, or immigration status. By casing out immigrants, we are placing some of our most vulnerable residents in grave danger. Every individual taxpayer, irrespective of citizenship status, needs government assistance now.”

“This virus impacts everyone – it does not care about your race, your ethnicity, your gender, your age, or your immigration status,” Senator Harris said. “The Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act would allow immigrants to have meaningful access to the vital resources they need during this crisis regardless of immigration status. No one should fear going to the grocery store or receiving care from the hospital.”

“The coronavirus does not discriminate based on immigration status, socio-economic status, or English-language proficiency, and neither should programs established to provide relief for people suffering during the pandemic,” Senator Hirono said. “In the face of an unprecedented public health and economic crisis, we must all come together to ensure that everyone in our communities, particularly the most vulnerable among us, have the support they need. That is how we are going to get through this pandemic. Together.” 

A broad coalition of organizations support the Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act, including the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), National Immigration Law Center (NILC), National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), Tahirih Justice Center, United We Dream (UWD), Center for American Progress, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, Casa de Esperanza, Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, CCLA Inc., California Immigrant Policy Center, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), Japanese American Citizens League, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF), Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, OCA - Asian Pacific American Advocates, and Central American Resource Center (CARECEN-LA).

“We are proud to endorse the Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act,” Olivia Golden, Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), said. “Given the devastating impact of this public health and economic crisis, this bill will ensure that no family is deterred from seeking emergency assistance for themselves or their loved ones because of fear of immigration enforcement or be prohibited from receiving life-saving treatment or access to COVID-19 testing because of concerns related to their immigration status. We applaud Senator Hirono for recognizing that our ability to overcome the devastating impact of this public health and economic crisis will depend on the ability of everyone to access the help they need, including the millions of immigrant workers who are on the frontlines of fighting this public health emergency.”

“Immigrants are on the front lines confronting this public health crisis as workers in the health care sector, harvesting and preparing our food, delivering our groceries, and caring for our loved ones. If we truly want to win this fight against a pandemic that doesn’t discriminate based on a person’s wealth, race or place of birth, we need Congress to pass policies that ensure immigrants are part of the solution and also receive the health care and economic support everyone needs to get through this crisis,” Marielena Hincapié, Executive Director of the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), said. “Senator Hirono’s bill addresses crucial gaps left in the last relief package and ensures that we all have access to testing, health care, and vital economic lifelines. I commend Senator Hirono and other Members of Congress who are advancing a more inclusive and equitable vision for America that acknowledges the role of immigrants as protagonists in our recovery from this global catastrophe.”

“During this unprecedented national emergency, we cannot and must not leave out our most vulnerable families, neighbors and communities. We deeply appreciate the leadership of Senators Hirono and Harris and Representatives Chu, Grijalva and Correa for introducing this legislation, which would ensure that immigrants and limited English proficient individuals have access to the same health care and economic aid as everyone else.” Juliet K. Choi, Executive Vice President of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, said.

“The Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act recognizes that we are together in this fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and leaving any community behind jeopardizes the success that we are all working toward. Guaranteeing no-cost testing and treatment for every person in this country who needs it, regardless of immigration status, is an investment in our wellbeing. Similarly, it is essential that no person be afraid to seek medical attention because it could result in their separation from their loved ones and their expulsion from the country,” Neera Tanden, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress said. “We also celebrate that under the bill, nobody in this country who is suffering as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and files a tax return using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number will be precluded from receiving the critical assistance that Congress made available in the third COVID package, because it is those badly-needed stimulus dollars that will help families make ends meet.”

“We commend the introduction of this important bill to protect the health, safety and security of millions of immigrant workers and their families who do so many front-line jobs from health care workers and janitorial staff to harvesting, delivering, and stocking our food,” John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, said. “We can’t stop the harms from this virus without protecting everyone.”

Congress has acted swiftly to provide significant additional resources for coronavirus-related testing, medical care, and other services. But reports indicate that fear and confusion is deterring immigrants from seeking the medical care for the coronavirus in light of continuing immigration enforcement actions and the public charge rule. This chilling effect continues despite USCIS’s announcement that obtaining coronavirus testing or treatment will not count as a penalty under the public charge rule. Congress also provided urgently-needed cash relief for lower-income Americans, but did not include immigrant taxpayers who file taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). In 2015, 4.35 million people paid over $13.7 billion in net taxes using an ITIN, according to the American Immigration Council.

To help ensure that these critical services and resources are available to all Americans, the Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act would, among other things:

  • Modify immigration policies that would deter immigrants from seeking health services for the duration of the coronavirus emergency and for 60 days after the emergency ends, including suspending the public charge rules, in-person ICE checks, the immigration detention and deportation of survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking who have pending immigration applications; and suspending immigration enforcement actions at or in transit to/from sensitive locations, such as hospitals, courthouses, domestic violence shelters, and other sensitive locations.
  • Ensure that everyone has access to COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccines by providing Medicaid coverage of COVID-19-related services to everyone, regardless of immigration status; and prohibiting discrimination in any program funded by a coronavirus relief bill based on actual or perceived immigration status.
  • Provide $100 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to provide language access and public outreach on coronavirus preparedness, response, and recovery to hard-to-reach populations—including minorities, those with limited English proficiency, and those with disabilities.
  • Ensure access to COVID relief measures for vulnerable communities by allowing immigrant taxpayers to access cash relief benefits with an individual tax identification number (ITIN); and automatically extending expiring work authorization for immigrants during the coronavirus emergency for the same time period as was previously authorized.