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Early Arrival: New York City Creates $20 Million Fund for Undocumented Workers

Monday's Edition of Early Arrival: Essex County Jail Uses Antibody Tests on ICE Detainees — Guatemalans Seek Assurances Over Deportees' Coronavirus Status — Trump Administration Pushes Farmworker Wage Cut

New York City will be providing direct financial assistance to undocumented workers in response to the coronavirus pandemic using a $20 million donation from Open Society Foundations.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the New York City COVID-19 Immigrant Emergency Relief program on Thursday. A citywide network of community-based organizations and workers centers will distribute the funding to 20,000 workers to start. The disbursement will be broken down into the following amounts:

  • $400 for individuals
  • $800 for couples or single parents with children
  • $1,000 for families with multiple adults and children
  • And/or where identified increased additional supports

The checks come after federal stimulus package that included $1,200 checks for all taxpayers explicitly excluded undocumented immigrants. Approximately 4.3 million of the 7.6 million undocumented immigrant workers nationwide pay taxes using taxpayer identification numbers, leaving them ineligible, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

According to the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, there are 360,000 undocumented workers and 48,000 undocumented business owners in New York City. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a $125 million fund on Wednesday to support undocumented workers. Day laborer and other worker advocacy groups have been calling on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to create a similar relief fund in New York state. Cuomo said the state was looking into it, but had financial problems. 6sqft, Pix11, Law.com


Essex County Jail Uses Antibody Tests on ICE Detainees

Essex County jail found that 20 Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees at the facility tested positive for antibodies for the novel coronavirus, according to figures it released on Sunday. Developing antibodies means the detainees likely contracted the virus and recovered. The jail has so far screened 115 people using newly approved antibody blood tests, 85 of whom were ICE detainees. The tests were approved this month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, though questions have been raised about their accuracy. So far 86 ICE detainees have been released from the facility after being considered immunocompromised. A federal judge ordered the release of a further five detainees on Saturday. NorthJersey.com

Ocasio-Cortez and New York Delegation Protest Immigration Court Proceedings

A group of New York members of Congress demanded answers from the Department of Justice on the operation of immigration courts and called for ICE to release detainees from immigration detention in a letter sent earlier this month. New York Reps. Eliot Engel, Adriano Espaillat, Carolyn Maloney, Gregory Meeks, Grace Meng, Jerrold Nadler, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, José E. Serrano, and Nydia Velázquez signed the letter. It criticized the DOJ’s handling of the immigration courts, where detained hearings have continued despite the health concerns of judges and lawyers. Ocasio-Cortez has also led inquiries into the Trump administration’s border policies during the pandemic. amNY.com 

NYC Human Rights Creates Task Force as Anti-Asian Discrimination Rises

New York City’s Human Rights Commission is launching a team focused on COVID-19-based discrimination as reports of harassment of Asians continue to spike. The commission gathered 248 hate reports since February, with 105 of those, or 42 percent, targeting Asians. That’s an increase from five reports in the same period last year. The types of discrimination vary across housing, public accommodations, employment, national origin, disability, or a person’s job. Reports of discrimination against Asians have been constant since the coronavirus began making headlines in the U.S. due to conflation about the virus’s origin in China and its spread. Gothamist 


Guatemalans Seek Assurances Over Deportees as Many Test Positive for COVID-19

Guatemala asked U.S. authorities to guarantee deported migrants do not have the new coronavirus before allowing deportation flights to continue, officials said Saturday. ICE has completed 20,950 removals since the start of March despite travel restrictions due to the pandemic. Guatemala again temporarily suspended deportation flights on Thursday after more than 70 deportees tested positive for COVID-19 on two recent flights. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention retested the deportees to validate the results and found them correct. Meanwhile, 234 deported Guatemalans are being held in a mass quarantine and some fear their fellow deportees may expose them to the coronavirus. The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, Reuters

Number of Positive COVID-19 Cases in ICE Detention Continues to Rise

There are 124 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in ICE detention facilities across the country, the agency reported Sunday, leading to continued chaos nationwide. Older detainees being held at the facilities continue to fear for their lives as they are particularly vulnerable if they catch the virus. El Paso detention facility recorded its first positive case.  The American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania is asking the court to compel ICE to release immigrants with medical conditions or their age. But when an immigrant detainee in Miami’s Krome detention center who tested positive was allowed to be released, he had nowhere to go as he did not want to infect his family. BuzzFeed News, El Paso Matters, The Miami Herald, York Dispatch

Immigrant Forced to Appear in Immigration Court Despite Not Being Able to Talk

Salomon Diego Alonzo, an immigrant who is in detention in Louisiana, was asked by a judge to call into a court hearing after a guard said he was too weak to talk, according to his attorney. When the judge asked him to say his name Thursday, the guard responded that Alonzo “does not have the lung capacity,” according to his lawyer, Veronica Semino, who was listening by phone. He told The Associated Press he “can barely walk.” He is being held at the Richwood Correctional Center in Monroe, Louisiana, where ICE has confirmed that 20 detainees have tested positive for COVID-19, the most of any detention center nationwide. Associated Press

Smugglers Breach Trump’s Border Wall 18 Times

Smugglers sawed into new sections of the border wall 18 times in the San Diego area during a one-month span between Sep. 27 and Oct. 27, according to Customs and Border Protection records. It cost the agency $620 per incident to repair the damage. Smuggling crews can reportedly cut through the newly erected border wall using tools that can be purchased at a home improvement store such as a reciprocating saw. There were no other breaches recorded in 2019, though the records reflect the number of breaches that required repairs, not the total number of breaches. The Washington Post

Border Factories May be Ground Zero for Coronavirus

A growing number of workers at factories along the U.S.–Mexico border say companies are not doing enough to protect workers against COVID-19. Hundreds of border factories known as maquiladoras were borne out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, including 10 in the Juarez area operated by Lear Corp., a multi-billion dollar parts manufacturer. Anywhere from four to 20 Lear employees have died of the coronavirus, according to employees and family members — a sizeable portion of the 29 deaths the virus has claimed locally. Workers are seeking better protection from the virus and pay during a furlough. The Dallas Morning News

Trump Administration Pushes Farmworker Wage Cut, Montana Firm Receives $569 Million Border Wall Contract, UN Slams New Border Policy

The Trump administration is considering cutting the minimum wage for migrant farmworkers on H-2A visas down to $8.34 per hour in order to aid farmworkers who have been hampered by the pandemic. The salary remains 15% above the federal minimum wage, but would represent a cut of around $2 to $5 per hour from current wage rates, which vary by state.

Newly appointed White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue are drawing up the plan, which Perdue has long called for. It has created awkward bedfellows of immigration restrictionists who view this as a move that will depress wages and discourage hiring American workers and immigration advocates who say the pay is too low, especially given the current dangers of working. 

H-2A visa holders account for approximately 10 percent of U.S. farmworkers. Still, the coronavirus has struck fear in those farmworkers, and some have gone home before their contracts have ended while others have opted not to travel to the U.S. in the first place. Meanwhile, farmers have had to slash prices as demand has plummeted due to the closure of restaurants and schools. The Wall Street Journal

The Army Corps of Engineers has given a $569 million contract to BFBC, a politically connected Montana firm, to build 17 miles of wall on the U.S.–Mexico border. The company has so far received $1 billion to build 37 miles of border wall, which President Trump promised during his 2016 campaign. The company’s chairman and founder Timothy Barnard and his wife, Mary, donated $5,600 to Trump’s re-election committee in 2019. The Daily Beast

The Trump Administration’s policy of expelling migrants shortly after they cross the border violates international law, the United Nations warned. CBP has begun quickly deporting migrants who cross the U.S.–Mexico border, regardless of their asylum claims or age, due to new powers afforded them by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention during a pandemic. As of April 8, 10,000 people were expelled with two hours of arriving on U.S. soil. The U.N. Refugee Agency said this was a violation of U.S. and international law, as well as treaties designed to protect people from being sent back to a place they may be persecuted. The Guardian

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