On May 15, the House of Representatives passed the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES Act), another COVID-19 relief bill.
The over-1800 page bill is far ranging, but includes many provisions affecting immigrants, including several fixes to omissions in the prior relief bill, the CARES Act.
Many immigrants pay taxes with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs), and there are millions of “mixed status” families comprised of U.S. citizens and their undocumented spouses or parents who do not yet have Social Security cards. As explained here, the CARES Act, with one exception for households with a military spouse, made families with a spouse who lacks a Social Security number, and ITIN tax filers, ineligible for the up to $1200 per individual or $2400 per married couple economic impact payments. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that about 15.4 million people who live in mixed status families are ineligible for the payments under the CARES Act, including 5.5 million U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
Under the HEROES Act, immigrants who file taxes with an ITIN, and “mixed status” family members who have Social Security numbers, would be able to receive the economic impact payments if they are income eligible, even if one spouse is ineligible. This would be both a humane and an economically sound correction, since the stimulus payments are spent in the recipients’ local economies, and may protect them from homelessness and other economic crises.
In addition, the HEROES Act would enable all low-income immigrants, regardless of status, to access free COVID-19 testing and treatment. Currently, many low-income immigrants, including permanent residents during their first five years of residency, asylum seekers, and the approximately one million individuals with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), are ineligible for Medicaid. The HEROES Act recognizes that COVID-19 makes no immigration status distinctions. It’s imperative that no one who suspects being infected with COVID-19 be afraid to access testing and treatment due to inability to pay.
The HEROES Act would also:
- protect immigrants from loss of status by granting automatic extensions for immigration filing deadlines that could not be met due to USCIS office closures during the pandemic;
- excuse those whose authorized stay expired but could not depart the U.S. due to travel obstacles caused by the pandemic;
- require that USCIS create a mechanism for conducting naturalization oath ceremonies remotely (hundreds of thousands of immigrants have passed their naturalization interviews and are waiting to be sworn in);
- expedite permanent residency for certain foreign-born doctors already practicing in the U.S.;
- expedite nonimmigrant visas for those who would be working in health care, and provide them with new flexibility to work where the need is greatest;
- give temporary legal status to undocumented workers in sectors deemed “essential” during the pandemic, such as workers in the food supply chain and health care,
among many other immigration provisions.
Maine’s Representative Pingree voted in favor of the the HEROES Act, while Representative Jared Golden voted no. The Senate has already objected to much of the HEROES Act, but these immigration provisions should be included in any future COVID-19 relief bill that is negotiated.