Direct Payments for Unauthorized Immigrants: What Each Side is Saying

Robert Brooks Contributor
Direct Payments for Unauthorized Immigrants: What Each Side is Saying
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Cover: Public Domain

On Friday, Democrats passed a $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill through the House of Representatives that would cost more than the prior four coronavirus bills combined. The “HEROES Act”, as it’s being called, would provide almost $1 trillion for state and local governments, suspend interest and payments for federal student loans through September 30, 2020, and extend the extra $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit through January 2021. The legislation also includes another round of $1,200 direct payments to individuals: both American citizens and unauthorized immigrants. This extra provision sparked some debate just before the weekend.

On the Right: The Republican position is that relief funds should be dedicated to US citizens only, specifically those who have a social security number. Conservatives also note that if this provision passed, it would entice even more immigrants to come to the US illegally. Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia called the direct payment addition for undocumented immigrants a “poison pill” and brought forth a motion on Friday to strip this provision from the relief bill. It failed on a 198-209 vote. All Republicans and 13 Democrats sided with Riggleman. In a floor speech, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell added, “Another round of checks for illegal immigrants. Can you believe it? We forgot to have the Treasury Department send money to people here illegally. My goodness, what an oversight. Thank goodness Democrats are on the case.”

On the Left: The Democrat’s position is that tax paying immigrants and their families should be eligible for federal stimulus funds regardless of their legal status. Under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act signed in late March, only immigrants with Social Security Numbers — and who fulfilled certain residency requirements — were able to receive the payments, meaning unauthorized immigrants and many temporary visa holders were excluded. As Vox notes, Democrats “have asserted that failing to offer financial aid to many immigrant families is an injustice that must be rectified, especially as the public has come to rely on immigrants to provide essential services during the current crisis. For instance, unauthorized immigrants make up about a quarter of farmworkers and 8 percent of the service sector and production workers. “They pay taxes, contribute to our economy, and in many cases are fighting on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis,” Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in a call with reporters May 1.

Flag This: Whether you agree with the Democrat’s position or not, one state is moving forward with this idea regardless of Congressional approval. Starting today, undocumented immigrants living in California who are ineligible for federal financial aid amid the coronavirus pandemic can apply to a new program. As detailed by Nicole Acevedo of NBC, “Eligible immigrant families will be able to get up to $1,000 per household. The state will contribute $75 million to the fund and philanthropic groups are expected to help raise an additional $50 million to complete the fund and support undocumented Californians.” While California appears to have funds available for this program, the state will be drastically limiting funding for its public colleges and universities. The University of California, is projected to lose $376 million in state general fund spending compared to what it received in the last fiscal year. The California State University, home to roughly 410,000 undergraduates across 23 campuses, is eyeing a reduction of $404 million compared to last year’s budget. As far as we know, other countries aren’t redirecting educational subsidies to fund programs for undocumented immigrants. It’s also hard to say whether or not Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Newsom would be eligible for direct payments if they were living in another country illegally.

Zooming out, despite passing 208-199, the The HEROES Act isn’t expected to advance any further in Congress and it’s unlikely that financial aid for unauthorized immigrants will find bipartisan support in a future “phase 4” coronavirus relief package.