COVID-19: CARES Act Denies Relief to Millions of Immigrants

The Corona Virus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, H.R. 748, was enacted on March 27, 2020. Despite immigrants’ importance to the U.S. workforce and economy, millions will get no direct financial assistance from the $2 trillion COVID-19 relief bill – neither the cash “Recovery Rebates” of up to $1200 per individual or $2400 per couple under certain income limits, nor the expanded federal COVID-19 unemployment insurance (UI) benefits to workers whose jobs and incomes have disappeared as a result of the pandemic.

The Recovery Rebates will only be issued to individuals with Social Security numbers. Many U.S. citizens and permanent residents are married to immigrants who do not yet have Social Security numbers, and the law specifically states that no rebate will be issued unless both spouses have Social Security numbers. Additionally, many work-authorized nonimmigrants, asylum seekers, and others with Social Security numbers who are not yet permanent residents will be excluded from the Rebates.

Undocumented workers, including those critical to many sectors of the U.S. economy such as essential workers in agriculture and health and eldercare, who often pay taxes with taxpayer identification numbers, also are excluded from the both the Recovery Rebates and the expanded UI benefits.

Immigrants, regardless of legal status, are impacted by COVID-19’s effects. Failure to include many of them in the CARES Act not only jeopardizes their and their families’ health and safety, but also harms the communities in which they live, as this article outlines.

In any future relief legislation, Congress should include all immigrants, regardless of status. COVID-19’s effects have no regard for national origin or immigration status.   The nation’s public health and economic responses shouldn’t either.