House Democrats outline immigration priorities for next coronavirus relief measure

Progressives, minority caucuses push for protections

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., was among the House Democrats outlining immigrant protection provisions they will push for in the next coronavirus relief package.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., was among the House Democrats outlining immigrant protection provisions they will push for in the next coronavirus relief package. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted May 8, 2020 at 3:14pm

House Democrats are pushing for a variety of provisions to help undocumented immigrants in the next coronavirus relief bill, but they acknowledge they’ll need more help from Republican allies if they want to get any signed into law.

“We have to get Republicans to support this and to push for it. Democrats only control one chamber,” Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal said Friday during a virtual town hall event with immigrant rights organization, FIRM Action.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus chairwoman urged activists to do more to push the GOP to help immigrants as lawmakers negotiate another coronavirus relief measure.

“We need to find some new ways to organize Republican allies to stand up against Stephen Miller and against President [Donald] Trump,” Jayapal said. Miller is a Trump senior adviser who works on the White House’s hardline immigration policies.

The town hall featured testimony from immigrants in a variety of situations asking questions about what Congress is doing to help immigrants of all statuses during the pandemic, especially ones who are working on the front lines. Other lawmakers on the call were Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chairwoman Judy Chu, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro and New York Rep. Yvette Clarke.

“The fact that immigrants have been left out of all the earlier relief bills pains me to no end,” Chu said.

The California Democrat talked about her bill (HR 6437), called the Immigrant Families Protection Act, that she is trying to get included in the next relief package.

The measure would make immigrants who file taxes using individual taxpayer identification numbers eligible for direct payments. It also would provide emergency Medicaid coverage for all immigrants to be tested and treated for COVID-19, halt the public charge rule that denies visas to immigrants likely to need government assistance and extend expiring work authorizations and immigration statues during the crisis.

“We can’t do it alone,” Chu said, referring to House Democrats. “We need leadership in both the House and the Senate, as well as members on the other side of the aisle, to hear from people like you on how economic recovery would be slowed even further if immigrants were left out of the relief packages. But I can assure you that members of Congress like me and the others that are on this call will be pushing as hard as we can to make sure that immigrants get the help that they need.”

One immigrant who addressed the lawmakers was a young Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient concerned about her work permit expiring during the pandemic.

“We understand that DACA and the Supreme Court decision could come down any day,” Jayapal said, referring to a decision from the high court that will likely be released before June.

House Democrats are still “pushing very, very hard” for the Senate to take up a House-passed bill that would provide DACA recipients with a path to citizenship, Jayapal said, but she noted right now they are focusing on at least trying to ensure DACA recipients who are working on the front lines during the crisis have a path to citizenship.

“It’s very hypocritical to say that we think these workers are essential and at the same time talking about deporting people from this country,” she said.

Castro spoke about the efforts of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to relax enforcement during the pandemic so that undocumented immigrants don’t fear going to the doctor and getting tested if they’re concerned about having contracted COVID-19.

While ICE has said they plan to be selective about enforcement and only go after criminals during the pandemic, Castro said, “there has been an internal fight between the ICE director and the larger administration on the policies during the pandemic.”

He also noted that the Hispanic Caucus has been pushing for immigrants being held in detention centers to be released to family members within United States because “these are places where the virus spreads.”

“We’ve been battling with ICE on different fronts here, and we’ll keep it up,” Castro said.