The failure of Congress to reach agreement on another coronavirus relief package is developing into a story of domestic humanitarian disaster. The millions who rely on these benefits, and the millions more who need to be added, face losing their homes and falling down in debt spirals and health problems. Passing expanded unemployment benefits, rent and mortgage relief, and stimulus checks for all individuals in the country regardless of immigration status is both a moral imperative and a key election issue.
More than 40 million people, some 12 million of them children, live as mixed immigration status families in the United States. None of the four coronavirus relief bills enacted into law included funds for immigrants or families with any undocumented members, despite that immigrants make up 17 percent of essential workers and contribute to these funds through paying their taxes. These exclusions hurt all of us. The United States loses more than $16 billion that could be injected into the economy by families who have to pay rent, buy groceries, and otherwise support their homes.
The Heroes Act passed by the House in the spring seeks to remedy this exclusion, but Senate Republicans are working overtime in their inaction, which has exacerbated the suffering of immigrant families trying to make ends meet and to keep themselves and others around them healthy as the coronavirus ravages communities of color around the country. The reality is that Latino and African American voters will have a say on who retains their seats and who loses this fall. The immigrant rights movement fueled the blue wave in the House two years ago and has also secured victories for our communities, even as Senate Republicans have stood in the way.
Take Arizona, for instance, which has not only become a key battleground state for the White House this fall, but now also has a competitive Senate race. According to voters in both parties, the rhetoric by President Trump against immigrants has hurt him in the state where the Latino population has soared over the last few years, so much that Republican candidates there are trying to distance themselves from his own campaign platform.
Republican incumbent Martha McSally is losing ground and falling behind in campaign finance to Democratic challenger Mark Kelly, who has noted her failings by ignoring the Native American communities across the state during the pandemic and not fighting hard enough to ensure unemployed workers in the state can continue supporting their families, including with extending the benefits to those numerous undocumented immigrants.
In Colorado, a battleground state with over 600,000 people, more than 200,000 of them children and who have been denied assistance during the coronavirus, another seat could be up for grabs. Former Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper holds the opportunity to unseat Republican Senator Cory Gardner. But he will need more support of Colorado voters who named immigration as a priority earlier this year. In addition to seats up for grabs, these states have strong immigrant rights and racial justice movements in common that are shaping the issues during this election.
Police brutality and racism sparked protests in every state in the country this summer, while 44 percent of registered voters support Black Lives Matter. What candidates need to understand is that racial justice issues are not separate from immigrant rights issues. Indeed, African American workers have suffered disproportionately at the intersection of the racism, pandemic, and economic downturn plaguing our country. These critical stakeholders will be the people who shake up the results in November.
It is not just immigrants and minorities who care about delivering relief to communities that are most impacted. Around 70 percent of the public in the United States values these immigrant communities and believes we must be more welcoming of them. Providing the same relief to stem the pain of the pandemic that affects all of us is the most basic way to start.
The country is in a health and economic crisis exacerbated by inaction of Republican lawmakers who prefer pushing the White House agenda over assisting families. For almost four years, the administration has attacked immigrant communities, defended white supremacists, and used force to intimidate protests. Many lawmakers sat on the sidelines and watched as our democracy was threatened. Congress must have the courage to fight for inclusive policies so that families will make it and thrive in the future.
Sulma Arias is director of Immigrant Rights at Community Change Action.