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Early Arrival: Undocumented Workers Feel Abandoned During Pandemic

Monday's Edition of Early Arrival: Undocumented Immigrants Fear Medical Debt — COVID-19 Cases in ICE Detention Continue to Rise as Protests Spread — Countries Who Refuse to Take Deportees Will Face Visa Restrictions

Mazin Sidahmed

Apr 13, 2020

Undocumented immigrants are especially vulnerable to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, as they are both the most exposed to the virus through their work and explicitly excluded from federal stimulus packages, City Limits reports. 

The lack of aid from the federal government has made it difficult for undocumented workers to take time off when they feel sick. Other workers have also seen their income cut off due to social distancing restrictions. But the $2 trillion stimulus package excludes undocumented workers as only people with social security numbers are eligible. Even couples where one spouse is documented and the other is not are excluded. 

City government and local nonprofits have tried to fill the gap by offering food and cash assistance to undocumented immigrants. Mixteca Organization, a nonprofit in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, is giving out prepaid $250 debit cards to 100 families in distress in Sunset Park. Mexican Coalition, another nonprofit, conducted a survey of 160 people that found that 66 percent of respondents cannot cover necessities for themselves or their families for a period of 14 days. City Limits


Undocumented Immigrants Still Fear Medical Debt

Despite assurances from New York City’s government that they will not be charged, immigrants in New York City are still afraid of seeking testing or treatment for COVID-19 over a fear of plunging into medical debt. Even undocumented immigrants who are symptomatic report being afraid to go to health care centers. The city has repeatedly said that it is committed to providing COVID-19 care regardless of immigration status or ability to pay. NYC Health + Hospitals, which manages 11 hospitals and over 70 community health centers across the city, typically serves low income and undocumented people. El Diario via City Limits

7 Immigrants Test Positive for COVID-19 at Batavia ICE Detention Facility

Seven detainees at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, New York have tested positive for COVID-19, Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed Saturday. ICE said the individuals who tested positive include a 62-year-old Pakistani, a 29-year-old Somali, two Hondurans, ages 37 and 31, two 21-year-old Salvadorians and a 35-year-old Dominican. ICE recently announced plans to release immigrants who are pregnant or older than 60 and limited the number of new detainees brought in. Prisoners’ Legal Services, which represents immigrants in detention, had previously sought to have 23 immunocompromised immigrants released from detention. Albany Times-Union

Read more on the conditions at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility at Documented

New Jersey Has Most Immigrant Detainees with Coronavirus

More than a quarter of the 61 ICE detainees around the country that have tested positive for coronavirus are being held in New Jersey, according to ICE. As of Sunday, 16 of the detainees are in New Jersey: seven in the Elizabeth Detention Center, five in the Hudson County Jail in Kearny, and two each in the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark and the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack. On Sunday, a federal judge ordered five medically vulnerable immigrants to be released from Hudson County or Bergen County jails in response to a lawsuit from The Legal Aid Society, Bronx Defenders and American Civil Liberties Union. NJ.com


COVID-19 Cases in ICE Detention Continue to Rise as Protests Spread

The official number of immigrant detainees around the country who have tested positive for COVID-19 rose to 61 on Sunday as judges begin to order ICE to release immigrants and protests break out within facilities. A judge in Massachusetts ordered the release of 43 immigrants from the Bristol County House of Correction in Dartmouth. At the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, which has 10 cases, the highest nationwide, detainees were asked to sign contracts before being given masks that arrived on Friday, sparking protests before guards relented. Fistfights between staff and detainees reportedly erupted at the Krome detention center in Miami-Dade as detainees refused to let new inmates into the facility. WBSM, San Diego Tribune, The Miami Herald

Dreamers Risk Lives as Doctors While Awaiting SCOTUS Decision

President Trump has sought to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the Supreme Court is set to make a decision on its future any week now. DACA recipients have been on the frontlines of the pandemic working as medical staff and advocates argue that ending the program and stripping their work permits now would be cruel and detrimental to fighting the crisis. There is an ongoing lack of available health care professionals, the plaintiffs argued in an appeal to the Supreme Court. About 200 medical students, residents or physicians are Dreamers, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The Washington Post

Children Must Still Appear in Court Despite Pandemic

Unaccompanied minors are still being made to go to immigration court to defend their cases even in places like New York where the coronavirus pandemic has overwhelmed the city and shut down most of its functions. The Department of Justice has insisted on keeping the immigration courts open for hearings for detained individuals, including children who are in the custody of the federal government. Judges, lawyers and prosecutors have all called on the DOJ to suspend all hearings to no avail. This week an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old at shelters were preparing for hearings at immigration court, according to their attorneys. The Marshall Project

Farmworkers Fear for Safety and Food Supply Chain

Advocates fear an outbreak of the coronavirus among farmworkers could be devastating and could also put the nation’s food supply at risk. Farmers say they’re doing their best to protect workers, including by limiting the number of people in transport vehicles and spacing them out during labor. Rural communities are worried about the effects of the virus due to sparse medical care. Advocates say dozens of farmworkers have already tested positive in Washington state. Many states have listed farmworkers as essential, but some are also opting out of work due to fears for their safety. CNN

Report: CBP Wasted $12 Million on Detention FacilityCustoms and Border Protection spent around $12 million last year on the Tornillo, Texas detention facility meant for 2,500 people that never held more than 68 detainees on a given day, the Government Accountability Office found in a report released on Thursday. Over five months, CBP paid $5.3 million for 650,000 meals that were never ordered and $6.7 million on unnecessary private security guards, the report said. There were eight guards per detainee between August and November at the facility. Its funding came from a $4.6 billion aid package from Congress. The GAO produced the report at the request of Democratic lawmakers. Associated Press

Washington — Countries Who Refuse to Take Deportees Will Face Visa Restrictions, White House Considering Lowering Farmworker Wages

The Trump administration threatened to withhold visas from several Central American countries if they refuse to accept deportees during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Wall Street Journal. A memo issued by President Trump gives the administration the authority to suspend visa access to any country that “denies or unreasonably delays” accepting citizens on the grounds that the immigrant may be infected with COVID-19. 

The threat comes after the Guatemalan government asked the U.S. to halt all deportation flights after a 29-year-old Guatemalan deportee tested positive for the virus. Since then, multiple other deportees have tested positive after arriving in Guatemala. Officials fear deportees could become a major source of infection in the country. El Salvador has also shut down its airport and has threatened not to accept any flights. 

The U.S. reportedly sent an array of top officials to Central America to pressure governments into continuing to accept these flights. It has become a top issue for the Department of Homeland Security officials. But the pandemic has not stopped ICE from carrying out deportation flights to Mexico and Central America, and several U.S. citizens abroad have been brought home on their return flights. The Wall Street JournalWhite House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is working with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to reduce the wage rates of foreign guest workers on H-2A visas in the U.S. Farmers say they’re struggling due to disruptions to the U.S. supply chain during the pandemic, including the shuttering of restaurants nationwide. The nation’s 2.5 million farmworkers have been considered essential during the pandemic to ensure grocery stores are stocked. H-2A seasonal guest workers make up about 10% of all farmworkers. Farmworker advocates oppose the measures as exploitative of foreign workers. They are also joined by immigration restrictionists who view this is another example of businesses using cheap foreign labor while unemployment reaches record levels. NPR

Mazin Sidahmed

Mazin Sidahmed is the co-executive director of Documented. He previously worked for the Guardian US in New York. He started his career writing for The Daily Star in Beirut and he also contributed to Politico New York.




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