Low-income immigrant families in America shunned coronavirus pandemic benefits for fear that accessing them would affect their US immigration status, according to a new report published by the Urban Institute. Immigrants, particularly women, have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 induced recession.
Among immigrant communities, unemployment rates and food insecurity have risen as a result of the pandemic, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Meanwhile, the Urban Institute found that as the economy began to falter, more than a quarter of low-income immigrant families reported that they or their partner had lost their job.
The Urban Institute’s study also found that half of respondents had been adversely affected by the pandemic in terms of their employment status, whether through furloughs, layoffs, lost income or other threats to their livelihoods.
For many affected, they said it coincided with serious material hardship in 2020, as most avoided costly medical care and struggled to pay rent or mortgages. According to the Urban Institute report, more than 41% of adults in low-income families suffered food insecurity, while more than a quarter struggled to pay family medical bills.
A further 23% struggled to cover utilities, and by December 2020, the majority of those struggling feared how they were going to pay for housing and medical costs. Others were worried about picking up enough hours at work and clearing debts.
US immigration-related concerns
However, even though low-income immigrant families worried about meeting their needs, a large chunk (27.5%) decided not to use non-cash government benefits amid fears that it would harm their US immigration status.
Most didn’t apply, or stopped participating entirely, in nutrition, health and housing programs, which could have provided the life-sustaining basics they so desperately needed. Low-income families with non-permanent US residents – such as undocumented immigrants and temporary US visa holders – were especially vulnerable.
Nearly 44% shunned assistance because of fears over their immigration status or enforcement action against them, including concerns over their ability to secure a green card should they rely on government benefits.
Most avoided benefits because of former US President Donald Trump’s controversial public charge rule, which made it more difficult for ‘poorer’ immigrants to become legal permanent residents in the US. However, the controversial policy has since been revoked by the Biden administration.
Hostile toward immigrants
Under the Trump administration, immigrants were subject to increasing hostility, but there was seemingly greater contempt for those arriving, or already in the US, deemed to be a burden on government resources.
Despite Trump’s perceptions, many immigrants living in poverty in the US during his presidency were not eligible for public benefits anyway.
Amid the announcement of Trump’s public charge rule in 2019, former acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Ken Cuccinelli, said: “Give me your tired and your poor, who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
Cuccinelli was slammed for taking the inscription engraved on the Statute of Liberty, penned by nineteenth century poet Emma Lazarus, to mock immigrants with many describing it as callous.
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