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

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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 Rubio (R-Fla.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), along with Michigan Democrats Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow.

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.”

“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.

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 McConnell (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.

Tags ACLU Coronavirus COVID-19 Debbie Stabenow Gary Peters Immigration Marco Rubio Martha McSally Mitch McConnell Thom Tillis
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