Published On: Wed, Sep 23rd, 2020

The Impact of COVID-19 on Noncitizens

COVID 19 has changed life for almost everyone in the entire world since it reared its ugly head in January of 2020. The United States leads the world in Coronavirus deaths and the government has been slow to restrict such things as interstate travel. Non-citizens in the U.S. are especially affected because of the immigration system in the country. 

The U.S Department of State, which handles the processing of visas has stagnated and asylum for refugees attempting to cross the border has all but stopped. The enforcement of immigration has been cut back as well. Although COVID is extremely contagious and deadly, there are thousands of people who are in detention in the country’s border cities. 

There is currently a ban on traveling from China, Iran, and most of Europe. There are exceptions for American citizens and their family members and that travel is restricted to only 15 airports. In late July and early August, the United States Consulate General in Belfast resumed the process of some student and family visas.

In the days before the COVID-19 pandemic, foreigners in the United States faced a precarious future with the ever-changing immigration policies of the Trump administration.  

The Virus is Hitting Immigrants Where They Live and Work

The vast majority of immigrants in America live in densely populated urban areas. 33% of non-citizens live in homes with more than 4 people which is far more than most citizens.

Non-citizens make up a large portion of restaurant industry workers, janitors, maids, and construction workers. These are jobs that cannot be performed from home and they are often done at close quarters.

Non-citizens Tend to be in a Lower Income Bracket

People who are not citizens often struggle to make ends meet. Undocumented immigrants are unable to get driver’s licenses. Many immigrants are dependent on public transportation. Although there are some restrictions on trains and buses such as a requirement to wear facial coverings, it can be very difficult to maintain proper social distancing on a crowded vehicle. 

Foreigners are also less likely to have insurance in the U.S. Only 9% of Americans are completely uninsured, but 33% of non-citizens are without a way to pay for medical care.

Democratic Senators are Calling for an Investigation of Politicizing of the Virus

A group of U.S. Senators is currently requesting the Government Accountability Office to investigate the Trump administration for using the virus to advance his anti-immigrant agenda. They believe that he made seemingly neutral changes to policies that ended up hurting non-citizens.

The senators wrote that the court system requires immigrants to file motions in court and appear for hearings in person in court to gain citizenship or stay in the country. They feel that these things can be very dangerous because of COVID-19. The senators said that there is not an across the board policy that allows people to appear in court telephonically or by video. Many immigrants must appear in person or not at all. As some of these immigrants are detained, they are unable to appear in court. As many of them have limited access to a telephone they cannot retain an attorney or communicate with their lawyer if they have one. Hence, Immigration lawyers are having a difficult time representing their clients. 

No one could ever have been prepared for a pandemic of this magnitude. It will take a long time to learn how to live with and manage the virus and deal with its aftermath.

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