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ACLU calls on Congress to approve COVID-19 testing for immigrants

ACLU calls on Congress to approve COVID-19 testing for immigrants
© YouTube/ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Thursday released a series of ads calling on members of Congress to support unrestricted COVID-19 testing for all immigrants, including those without legal status, as coronavirus cases continue to rise across the United States.

The ads target Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Biden administration sanctions Russia for SolarWinds hack, election interference Senators reintroduce bill to block NATO withdrawal New US sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations MORE (R-Fla.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyArizona state senator announces bid for Kirkpatrick's seat Democratic Arizona Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick says she won't seek reelection Senate GOP faces retirement brain drain MORE (R-Ariz.), and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisBipartisan Senate proposal would grant million to minority businesses Biden's gun control push poses danger for midterms The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings MORE (R-N.C.), along with Michigan Democrats Gary PetersGary PetersHillicon Valley: Biden nominates former NSA deputy director to serve as cyber czar | Apple to send witness to Senate hearing after all | Biden pressed on semiconductor production amid shortage Bipartisan lawmakers signal support for Biden cybersecurity picks The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Let's make a deal on infrastructure, taxes MORE and Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSerious about climate change? Get serious about agriculture Five things to watch on Biden infrastructure plan Senators introduce bipartisan bill to expand electric vehicle charging tax credit MORE.

The still-image ads feature exhortations to the public: "Tell Congress: Make covid-19 testing available to everyone," "Tell Congress: Until all of us are covered, all of us are at risk," and "Tell [member]: Everyone, including immigrants, needs access to covid-19 testing and treatment."

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“Currently, there are 1.7 million immigrant health care workers caring for COVID-19 patients. One-quarter of all health care workers are immigrants, and tens of millions of immigrants contribute daily to our country on the front lines as grocery store employees, farmworkers, caregivers, hospital employees, and so much more," said Yesenia Chávez, the immigrants' rights policy analyst at the ACLU who led the campaign.

"Yet, many of our country’s immigrants — both documented and undocumented — who are putting their lives on the line and risking their health with constant exposure, have been left out of access to COVID-19-related testing and treatment," she added.

Chávez said the campaign's top priority is simply to include all immigrants in emergency coverage under Medicaid.

"Emergency Medicaid doesn't have the immigrant eligibility restrictions that Medicaid does," said Chávez.

Immigrants without legal status, as well as certain green card holders and visa holders, are barred from using regular Medicaid services, under which COVID-19 testing and treatment were placed in coronavirus response bills passed in April.

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At the time, immigrants' rights groups said the exclusion could make immigrant populations especially susceptible to infection, and place at risk the entire fight against the disease.

Now, with coronavirus infections growing in states like Arizona, Congress is divided on what a new response bill will look like.

The House in May passed the HEROES Act, a Democratic-led bill that expands on the CARES Act and includes a COVID-19 testing and treatment expansion to emergency Medicaid.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcCarthy and Biden haven't spoken since election Democrats roll out legislation to expand Supreme Court Wall Street spent .9B on campaigns, lobbying in 2020 election: study MORE (R-Ky.) has indicated the Senate will not approve the HEROES Act as is, and is instead likely to put forward a Republican-led bill in July.

"Senator McConnell has made it very clear that HEROES is sort of dead on arrival in the Senate. And so, we believe McConnell and leadership will be working on their own version of the bill," said Chávez.

"It is important that the senators that we're targeting that day become the advocates of including an immigration provision in this Senate federal relief package," she added.

Some of the targeted members have already spoken out about the gaps in coronavirus response for immigrant families.

Rubio, for instance, introduced The American Citizen Coronavirus Relief Act, which would extend economic relief to U.S. citizens married to foreign nationals without Social Security numbers, a group that was excluded from economic aid in the original relief package.

The ACLU's campaign is focused primarily on the health care aspects of including immigrants in coronavirus relief.

In part, the campaign aims to show how complicated it is to navigate medical coverage for immigrants, many of whom don't know where or if they can seek testing and treatment.

But it also aims to educate the general public and members of Congress on what resources are available to combat the spread of the disease among immigrants.

"We recognize that there's a lack of knowledge that Medicaid has immigrant eligibility restrictions," said Chávez.

"We need to ensure that constituents and our membership are aware of this population that has been locked down and — we've learned over the past couple of months — just how interconnected we all are," she added.