Supporting #AllOfUS Means Supporting Immigrants During COVID-19

Immigration -- President Obama's Executive Order

AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

Varinia Sandino holds her son Zachary as she watches President Barack Obama's televised immigration speech at Casa de Maryland in Hyattsville, Md., Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014.

April 29, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has us all scared. This has fueled the spread of misinformation, racism, and antisemitism. The resulting vitriol and scapegoating has targeted immigrants as well. We must not allow the spread of the virus and necessary physical separation to sow philosophical division among us and lead to policies that harm those most vulnerable, including immigrants.

It is going to take all of us banding together to come out the other side of this. That’s why ADL is proud to join the #AllOfUS campaign – joining a broad coalition of faith, civil rights, business, and immigration organizations in a campaign to reach Americans nationwide to make the case that immigrants are essential to COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.

We stand in support of all immigrants and recognize the importance of standing together rather than allowing ourselves to be divided. That includes fair and compassionate immigration policies.

As a Jewish anti-hate organization, we are rooted in a community that has experienced the plight of living as refugees and immigrants throughout its history. ADL has advocated for fair and humane immigration policy since our founding in 1913 and has been a leader in exposing the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee hate that has poisoned our nation’s debate.

Right now, there are healthcare providers and essential workers — many of them immigrants — responding to, helping contain, and supporting us all through the COVID-19 pandemic.

DACA recipients — young adults granted legal protection against deportation under an Obama-era program — make up 200,000 essential workers, including 27,000 healthcare workers, on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19. The Trump Administration has withdrawn the legal protections that allow DACA recipients to live and work in this country. In response, recipients have sued to stop the Administration from ending the program; the case is currently awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court.

There is increasing evidence that, despite promises to the contrary, the Administration intends to deport as many DACA recipients as possible as soon as possible if the Supreme Court rules in its favor. This move would be unnecessary, cruel, and put all Americans at risk.

What we need at this challenging time is the support of every healthcare worker and essential worker, and we need to be supporting them in return. If nearly 700,000 DACA recipients — including doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, child care providers, cleaners, business owners, restaurant workers and other first responders  — are suddenly thrown out of work and put at risk of deportation, their health and welfare and that of the entire nation will be further jeopardized.

This will also have a broader effect on public safety by chilling the willingness of DACA recipients, and of immigrant communities generally, to get tested and seek medical care for COVID-19, thus potentially putting them at greater risk of harm from the virus and amplifying its spread. In light of the concrete risk of significantly exacerbating the human toll of this deadly virus, the Supreme Court should not issue a decision on the DACA case in the midst of this pandemic.

Even as immigrants play a key part in our survival, this Administration is amplifying its anti-immigrant campaign. Just last week, the President signed an Executive Order curbing immigration by suspending the issuance of green cards to immigrants abroad for 60 days, with the possibility of the order being extended. This primarily affects the family members (including children and spouses) of green card holders and adult children of U.S. citizens — something the President has referred to as “chain migration” and vowed to end. ADL has already expressed concern about the implications of this Order. It is now being challenged in court for its potential impact on children who might “age out” of eligibility for immigration status during this period of time.

This Executive Order is not a singular action. The Administration appears to be using public health as a pretext to shut down the borders for immigration, even for refugees and asylum seekers. This is so even though the U.S. has more cases of COVID-19 than any other country in the world and even as the U.S. continues to deport people to Central America and Haiti without testing them for COVID-19. ADL submitted a public comment opposing the border shutdown, which violates U.S. international treaty obligations, U.S. asylum procedure, and a federal law designed to protect trafficked children.

Meanwhile, thousands of people in ICE custody are being detained in crowded, unsanitary conditions ripe for the spread of COVID-19, a situation about which ADL has also expressed concern. The impossibility of practicing social distancing inside a detention facility also places surrounding communities at risk. Staff going in and out of the facilities may become infected and carry the virus back to their communities. Moreover, an overflow of seriously ill patients from within detention facilities will in turn overwhelm nearby hospitals.

The government’s own medical experts have described ICE detention during this crisis as a “tinderbox.” Though widespread testing has not occurred inside the facilities, over 300 cases have been reported by the government. Worse yet, an estimated 72% of individuals in detention may become infected with COVID-19 in the next 90 days under what some experts deem the “optimistic scenario.” Notably, six out of ten people in ICE detention have any criminal record (meaning four out of ten have none), and only one in ten have a criminal record that ICE considers to be serious.

As of April 18, 2020, there were 5,431 people in ICE custody who were determined by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to have established a valid claim of persecution or torture in their home country. Immigration advocates have mobilized to ask immigration judges and federal courts to release vulnerable individuals, reduce crowding, and improve sanitary conditions. In response, some federal judges have found that conditions in detention centers are inadequate to meet social distancing, sanitary, and other safety guidelines, with a California judge ordering ICE to release detainees in order to allow the people remaining in ICE custody to practice safe social distancing. An immigration violation should not be punished with unnecessary, careless exposure to a potentially lethal virus.

There are immediate steps that ICE could take to reduce the risk to people in its custody. People with established claims of persecution or torture, children, vulnerable populations (people who are elderly, immunocompromised, etc.), and people who pose no danger to the community can be released from detention centers in order to reduce the population and allow for safe social distancing. People who remain detained should be provided with appropriate protective gear such as gloves and masks, and adequate sanitary supplies such as soap and anti-bacterial gel containing at least 60% alcohol as recommended by the CDC at no cost. Facilities should be regularly cleaned and disinfected. People should have regular access to healthcare within detention facilities, including free testing and treatment for COVID-19. Everyone who is detained should have free access to phone calls and letters so that they can communicate with the outside world, including their family members and their attorneys. Finally, ICE should be transparent about what it is doing to flatten the curve and reduce the spread of COVID-19 within detention centers.

The only way we will get through the COVID-19 pandemic is for #AllOfUS to work together and remain united. The interdependence of our society is clearer now than ever. All life is precious — and we save the most lives by working together, supporting those most vulnerable, and acknowledging that immigrants are part of the fabric of our society who make vital contributions to our nation as healthcare workers and essential workers.

There are countless things that you can also do to help! Some options are:

  • Contact your Senators and Representatives to urge them to support the Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act and help make sure that the next stimulus package includes equal benefits for everyone, regardless of their immigration status or that of their family members.
  • Donate to an immigration bail fund and share information about it with others.
  • Support the #AllOfUS campaign by donating to your local food bank through Feeding America.