August 10, 2020
Q. You’re an award-winning journalist reporting on immigration issues for the Los Angeles Times. From what you’ve seen so far, what have been the largest impacts of COVID-19 on US immigration policy?
The Trump administration has used the COVID-19 pandemic to advance a host of stringent immigration policies, particularly with asylum. Using the cover of the coronavirus, Trump has sealed the border to an unprecedented extent and turned away thousands of people seeking asylum, including hundreds of children traveling by themselves to the US southern border. Two years after taking migrant children from their parents blew up into a humanitarian crisis, the Trump administration is still engaging in family separation but under the guise of the coronavirus.
At the same time, this administration is rushing the deportation of migrant children and has contributed to the worldwide spread of COVID-19 by deporting immigrants with coronavirus to their home countries, despite pleas from experts and government officials to halt deportations.
Q. Among the estimated 10.6 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, the majority do not have primary care providers (PCPs) or qualify for most federal assistance. Can you tell us about the medical-related initiatives that exists across the country to help undocumented communities during the pandemic?
There are some groups and organizations helping people who are in the country without legal status, but the need is too great and falls short not only regarding healthcare, but when it comes to financial assistance, which often go hand-in-hand.
I’ve interviewed immigrants who are in the country without legal status who are having to choose between a paycheck or their health. One Mexican immigrant I spoke with works in hospital maintenance–a job that puts him at high risk for catching the virus. At one point, he had to consider moving into his garage to self-quarantine in order to keep his family safe. He’s diabetic, which puts him at high risk of suffering serious complications and dying if he contracts the coronavirus.
There are many stories like his.
Q. Since last month, undocumented immigrants in California can apply for financial assistance to support them during the coronavirus pandemic — the first relief fund of its kind. What does this financial assistance consist of? How has the economic shock of the coronavirus outbreak affected undocumented immigrants more broadly in the US?
California’s financial assistance offers $500 cash grants for individuals who are in the country without legal status and up to $1,000 for families. While it helps, it’s a drop in the bucket, particularly in an expensive state like California.
Still, the first day the applications opened, the website crashed and the phone lines were flooded with people because there was such high demand.
California’s effort was a reaction to the Trump administration’s refusal to help these immigrants directly in any significant way during the pandemic. Many are left without a safety net afforded to most Americans.
Despite paying billions in state and local taxes, many migrant workers deemed essential do not have valid Social Security numbers and are, therefore, blocked from receiving most federal financial assistance, including unemployment insurance and the cash payments provided as part of the government’s historic $2-trillion stimulus package enacted in late March.
Q. In what ways, if at all, do you think that COVID-19 will influence perceptions of immigration in the US?
It’s well documented that xenophobia has followed closely behind the coronavirus. It’s fueled racism toward Chinese immigrants or people perceived to be Chinese. At the same time, I think it has been interesting to see how the US passport is really no longer all that special in the time of COVID-19. Due to our nation’s out of control transmission rates, many countries have barred entrance to US citizens. Americans are now getting a taste of what many other people around the globe have experienced for years. Perhaps that will lead to some introspection.
Q. You’re a French-American Foundation Young Leader from the class of 2013 and a recipient of our Immigration Journalism Award in 2012. Is there enough information at this time to compare the immigration policies of the US and France during this crisis?
I think it may be too early to get a good overall picture to make fair comparisons.
But there is one overarching similarity between both countries in that both have closed their borders to many–particularly asylum seekers–during the pandemic.
One main difference is how both countries handled immigration detention.
Despite increasing rates of coronavirus, the Trump administration has been adamant about proceeding with detaining people they suspect are in the country without authorization. There have been multiple stories about COVID-19 spreading in these facilities and the administration still refuses to re-evaluate its detention practices. At the same time, France (along with other EU countries) ordered facilities to release immigrants during the early days of the pandemic. However, I read recently that France has started reopening some detention facilities in late June since restrictions have eased in the country. That may change now that France is seeing an uptick of COVID-19.