With all elements of government, and society as a whole, focused on combatting the further spread of the coronavirus, the Boston Bar Association has urged federal immigration officials to take steps to protect individuals and communities, by exercising its authority over the status on non-citizen healthcare workers, and by helping to encourage the immigrant community, citizens and non-citizens alike, to seek treatment for COVID-19.
To that end, President Chris Netski issued a letter urging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to use its existing statutory authority in three key ways to assist communities in mitigating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the letter asks DHS to:
- Enlist the help of non-citizen healthcare workers:
DHS is equipped with a wide array of tools to recruit and retain critical healthcare workers, thanks to the Immigration and Nationality Act. It must act swiftly to ensure their vital help is available in combating COVID-19. DHS should also enlist the help of international medical graduates in J-1 status who are in residency and fellowship programs.
- Expedite the review of petitions and applications involving healthcare workers:
DHS can direct U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to expedite review of petitions and applications involving healthcare workers. Under the premium processing program, USCIS guarantees review of select petition types within 15 days of submission. Otherwise, this process can stretch out over several months.
- Refrain from penalizing applicants for permanent residency who have been treated for COVID-19 with the use of public benefits:
USCIS’s current COVID-19 Public Charge statement lacks the clarity necessary to reassure applicants that they may seek treatment without reprisal. To save lives and address the current public health crisis posed by COVID-19, USCIS should resolve any doubt that an individual’s use or receipt of public benefits or lack of work as a result of the pandemic will not be a negative factor in its consideration of a totality of circumstances.
DHS is the principal federal agency charged with oversight of the immigration system and is well-positioned to leverage its authority to help communities deploy the energy of non-citizen healthcare workers. Non-citizens make up a substantial portion of the healthcare workforce and play an invaluable role in the daily lives of all Americans. This role is especially amplified right now, as American communities are some of the most impacted by the global pandemic in the world. These measures are imperative to ensure the health and safety of immigrants and the community.
The BBA has spoken up multiple times in opposition of the public charge rule. Our 2018 Immigration Principles, which inform our advocacy for immigration policies and practices that protect fundamental rights and human dignity, assert that immigration is a defining feature of the American experience, and that immigrants play an essential role in the civic, economic, and cultural life of our city, state, and country. This is true now more than ever, as immigrants are providing services that are imperative to communities endangered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, at the same time, immigrant communities are amongst those most harmed by the economic and health consequences that the pandemic has caused. We urge USCIS to make it clear that immigrants who seek out testing and treatment of COVID-19 will not face public-charge consequences.
Prompt action on these recommendations—to ensure that everyone is able to get tested and treated and that all medical professionals are available to be deployed in this fight—will not only benefit the immigrant community, but our community as a whole, as we work together to flatten the curve.