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The next federal relief package must include help for immigrants | Opinion


The health and prosperity of each of us depends on the health and prosperity of all of us. That’s the reality that the COVID-19 crisis has made plain. Sen. Marco Rubio has shown leadership by sponsoring the American Citizen Coronavirus Relief Act in support of relief for some immigrant families. But the most difficult challenge — shepherding the policy through a chaotic Senate — lies ahead, and Floridians are counting on Rubio to deliver.

It’s well-documented that federal anti-immigrant policies have already compromised our nation’s health. The nonpartisan Urban Institute reported that immigrant families are avoiding nutrition, housing and healthcare programs because of recent changes to the “public charge” rule, which puts immigration applications at risk if a person uses those programs.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, the administration has said COVID-19 care won’t count. But, not surprisingly, well-established fear and mistrust among immigrant communities mean the policy continues to undermine our response. That’s not our opinion — it’s the assessment of healthcare providers on the pandemic’s front lines. And with about 3.2 million Floridians living in immigrant families, including more than 800,000 children, it’s a critical threat to our state’s health.

It is incumbent upon our congressional leaders to safeguard the health of immigrants, many of whom are front-line, essential workers harvesting the food we eat and caring for the sick and elderly. Yet Congress has passed not one, but three COVID-19 relief packages that exclude thousands of immigrant families in Florida and millions more nationwide. Members of our Florida Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition, along with hundreds of other nonprofits nationwide sent a letter to congressional leadership outlining the critical elements of a bill that would protect us all. In short, an effective COVID-19 response package would ensure that immigrant families can get the care they need and can adhere to social distancing and other prevention practices without compromising basic needs like food and shelter.

The U.S. House responded by passing the HEROES Act. This important legislation includes critical provisions that would improve healthcare access and economic supports for immigrant families. And it provides economic relief for immigrants left out of previous packages and their spouses and children who are U.S. citizens. That would help 277,000 Florida residents, boosting our economy by $576 million. We urge Sens. Rubio and Rick Scott to support the comprehensive relief put forth in the HEROES Act. If that proves impossible, Rubio’s proposal — a partial fix that still leaves many children behind — is the next-best option.

Ensuring that immigrant families can get the care they need is about more than insurance coverage. In fact, it starts with codifying the recent injunction blocking the Trump administration’s public-charge regulation and prohibiting immigration enforcement actions at or near hospitals and other health facilities. Whether they’re insured or not, nobody’s going to the doctor if it could lead to being separated from loved ones. Florida’s senators should add that common-sense protection.

The health and prosperity of each of us depends on the health and prosperity of all of us. The House has delivered a legislative package that moves toward an inclusive pandemic response. The sooner our senators act to advance and improve that package, the sooner our community and our nation will be truly safe.

Krystina François is executive director of the Office of New Americans of Miami-Dade. Cheryl Little is executive director of Americans for Immigrant Justice. Alison Yager is deputy executive director of the Florida Health Justice Project. The co-authors have written on behalf of the Florida Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition. Additional member groups include: Catalyst Miami, Florida Covering Kids & Families, Hispanic Unity of Florida, and WeCount!

Click here to read the full op-ed in the Miami Herald.