There are currently just over 1.5 million COVID-19 cases in the United States with almost 90,000 deaths. When a communicable disease outbreak begins, the ideal response is for public health officials to begin testing for it early. Efficient testing leads to the quick identification of cases, quick treatment, and immediate isolation to prevent further spread. However, there is a growing concern among immigrants who are afraid to seek medical care for the novel coronavirus.
As immigration lawyer Jean Danhong Chen explains, many immigrants at a higher risk of COVID-19 are afraid to seek testing or care, which could have a major impact on the overall containment of this pandemic. In hopes of erasing the fear immigrants have of receiving COVID-19 testing and treatment, she outlines what the situation looks like.
The Current Situation
Public health officials, hospitals, and community clinics are grappling with millions of immigrant residents who may be too afraid to seek testing or care are ill-equipped by their economic circumstances to comply with self-isolation orders. Jean Danhong Chen explains that fear among immigrants nationwide to get tested have been rampant. People in line for green card considerations have worried that contracting the virus or seeking treatment may impact their chances of receiving permanent residency in the US.
In certain cases, immigrants may be at a higher risk for exposure to the virus because many cannot work from home, cannot afford not to work, and often have jobs that require interacting with large numbers of other people — a disproportionate number of immigrants tend to be essential workers. Immigrants have a right to be afraid, but one of the primary factors involved in driving this fear is an immigration rule that went into effect on February 24th, 2020.
The Public Charge Rule
The ‘public charge rule’, which favors wealthier immigrants seeking permanent status (putting the poor at a disadvantage), will keep people who need food stamps, housing vouchers, and supplemental social security income from getting their green cards because they will be considered a financial burden. Jean Danhong Chen explains that this initial change in policy sparked fear in immigrants as the coronavirus started to spread at the end of February. However, how that policy relates to the Coronavirus changed in March.
On March 16th, 2020, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that any immigrant who gets tested or treated for the virus will not be negatively impacted. The USCIS encourages everyone, even illegal immigrants, to seek necessary medical treatment and preventative services.
To quote the agency: “To address the possibility that some aliens impacted by COVID-19 may be hesitant to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services, USCIS will neither consider testing, treatment, nor preventative care (including vaccines, if a vaccine becomes available) related to COVID-19 as part of a public charge inadmissibility determination nor as related to the public benefit condition applicable to certain non-immigrants seeking an extension of stay or change of status, even if such treatment is provided or paid for by one or more public benefits, as defined in the rule (e.g. federally funded Medicaid).” Despite this announcement, many physicians fear that news of the decision is not getting out.
Jean Danhong Chen fears that these policies are actively discouraging immigrants from coming forward to receive the treatment they need and could hamper efforts to contain the epidemic. Over the past week, ICE agents have continued to make arrests in some of the regions hardest hit by the virus, fueling fear in the immigrant community and thwarting efforts to protect the public health of everyone.
Jean Danhong Chen’s Bottom Line
As an immigration lawyer who works with clients to ensure the best possible outcome, Jean Danhong Chen wants immigrants to know that she will continue fighting for their rights during this difficult time. With a mission to provide quality legal and customer service at a reasonable and competitive rate, she encourages worried immigrants and citizens to reach out to her. She is able to answer legal questions relating to the public charge rule and how the USCIS has changed their ruling.