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Citing 'Unconscionable and Irresponsible Omission,' ACLU Demands Equal Covid-19 Protections for Immigrants

"Immigration status shouldn't be a death sentence, but if Congress doesn't act soon, it will continue to be."

A healthcare worker talks to a person in line in their vehicle at United Memorial Medical Center Covid-19 testing site in Houston, Texas, June 25, 2020. (Photo: Mark Felix / AFP via Getty Images)

The ACLU on Thursday launched a new digital ad campaign calling on the U.S. Senate to correct an "unconscionable" omission in the nation's coronavirus testing strategy, demanding that all immigrants be made eligible for Covid-19 testing and treatment in any upcoming legislation.

"It is your responsibility to make sure everyone has access to health care during a pandemic," the group wrote to both Democratic and Republican senators on Twitter. The ad campaign is targeting senators in Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona.

Tens of millions of immigrants are unable to access testing and treatment because every bill enacted by Congress so far has left out of testing access "DACA recipients; Temporary Protected Status holders; domestic violence survivors and survivors of crime; undocumented people; and green card holders," the ACLU wrote in a letter to Senate leaders last week.

"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."
—Yesenia Chavez, ACLU

The HEROES Act, passed by the Democratic-led House in May, prioritized including immigrants—including nearly 20 million who are "essential" workers, ensuring that grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, and other businesses have kept running during the pandemic—in testing and treatment plans. 

But Republicans who control the Senate have dismissed the package, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) calling it a "liberal wish list." 

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With the new ad campaign, the ACLU is calling on senators to push for access to testing and treatment for both documented and undocumented immigrants.

The ACLU noted when launching its campaign that 1.7 million immigrants are healthcare workers currently on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, treating Covid-19 patients and putting themselves and their communities at risk for infection. 

"The Senate must act swiftly to ensure access to testing and treatment for everyone: All of our lives are at stake." —Yesenia Chavez, ACLU

"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," said Yesenia Chavez, policy analyst and campaign lead for the ACLU.

"This omission is unconscionable and irresponsible," Chavez added. "It also puts immigrant workers in an impossible position: many are without cash assistance, even if they pay their taxes, and are risking their lives for us, while simultaneously not having access to testing and treatment. It puts all of our health at great risk. The Senate must act swiftly to ensure access to testing and treatment for everyone: All of our lives are at stake."

In its letter to the Senate last week, the ACLU demanded that emergency Medicaid coverage be extended to everyone who needs it in order to access testing, and that anyone who files taxes, including those who file using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number instead of a Social Security number, be made eligible for cash assistance.

"As numbers spike all over America, our survival as a nation is at stake," said Manar Waheed, senior legislative and advocacy counsel for the ACLU, last week. "Yet Congress has repeatedly failed to ensure testing and treatment for everyone who needs it. As a result, the options for people left out are limited, create confusion over eligibility, and fail to provide the care that immigrants deserve. Immigration status shouldn't be a death sentence, but if Congress doesn't act soon, it will continue to be."

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