'Nonresident aliens' missing out on $2T coronavirus relief package will only add to their economic woes: Experts

'For workers who are noncitizens, whether legally present or unauthorized immigrants, they have more limited access to safety net programs....,' says Julia Gelatt, Senior Policy Analyst at Migration Policy Institute


                            'Nonresident aliens' missing out on $2T coronavirus relief package will only add to their economic woes: Experts
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The largest stimulus package in US history that President Donald Trump signed into law on March 27 — the $2 trillion bill intended to rescue the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic — will not provide relief to millions of immigrants working in the nation. 

According to Law360, "The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act specifically mandates that people considered 'nonresident aliens' won’t be eligible for the $1,200 per adult and $500 per child benefit that Congress is hoping to slip into people’s bank accounts sometime this spring".

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As more and more people across the nation face layoffs with businesses shutting shop and residents mandated to stay indoors to avoid getting infected by the novel coronavirus, immigrants who pay taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN — a system put in place for those members of society who are not eligible to have a social security number — will not receive even a dime from the massive stimulus package. 

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Julia Gelatt, a Senior Policy Analyst at Migration Policy Institute, described to MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) the adverse impact of the Senate bill on immigrants who will not be able to prove their identity without a valid social security number and hence will not be eligible for the relief checks. 

"Immigrant workers facing layoffs have extra vulnerabilities compared to US-born workers. They have, on average, lower incomes, and they’re more likely to have children at home. For workers who are non-citizens, whether legally present or unauthorized immigrants, they also have more limited access to the safety net programs that help struggling families get through hard times," she said. 

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Odalys K Fernandez holds a sign reading, ' Caution!! coronavirus risk', as she joins protesters outside of a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office on March 13, 2020 in Miramar, Florida (Getty Images)

She added, "Many immigrants will qualify for the new relief checks. But those who are unauthorized immigrants or who live with unauthorized immigrants do not, and those are likely among the families facing the greatest economic hardship right now. For many immigrant families, layoffs and blocked access to federal relief may lead to real hardship as families try to keep food on the table and pay their bills."

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The following are the options, according to Gelatt, that the immigrants in the US are stuck with in these hard times.

"Immigrants facing layoffs who have work authorization are eligible for unemployment insurance in all states and are eligible for new expansions in unemployment benefits. Some immigrants — namely green card holders who have been in the US for at least five years — also qualify for public benefits like food stamps and public health insurance and may qualify for cash assistance. And, anyone who has a social security number may be eligible for checks that the government will be sending to many US workers as long as they do not file taxes jointly with someone who is unauthorized."

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As for the use of the phrase "nonresident aliens" — which is a tax term and not an immigration one — Gelatt says it might have been deliberately used by the people who drafted the bill.

"Some members of Congress certainly did not want to see federal aid going to unauthorized immigrants who are ineligible to work in the United States. But blocking families with even one unauthorized immigrant parent will also affect the approximately 4 million US citizen children and 2 million US citizen and lawful permanent resident spouses of unauthorized immigrants," she said. 

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President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, joined by members of the Coronavirus Task Force, field questions about the coronavirus outbreak in the press briefing room at the White House on March 17, 2020 in Washington, DC (Getty Images)

But with a continued streak of unemployment and with no way to get their hands on some economic aid, will immigrants begin fleeing from the US?

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Gelatt said that although immigration slowed down after the Great Recession during the late 2000s and early 2010s, this time could be different if "Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and other major immigrant sending countries are also hit hard by COVID-19."

Richard A Boswell, professor of law at U.C. Hastings College of the Law, relayed the harsh truth to MEAWW: no matter how hard the living conditions get in the US, immigrants, especially those who escaped certain deaths in their own countries, will never prefer leaving America, considering the alternative. 

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"I don’t know and am doubtful that they will flee. They are already pretty self-sufficient. To the extent that the conditions for them are bad in their home countries they either won’t have the ability to leave or if they do if going back to their countries means loss of life they will not make that choice. Immigrants are no different from any other human being. If someone is likely to kill you if you return and the choice is to do without some assistance, you will choose life," he said. 

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