Significance of HEROES Act on Immigrants in the United States
The U.S. House of Representatives recently introduced the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act) as their “phase four” 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) stimulus and relief package. The HEROES Act, which House Representatives narrowly passed on May 15, 2020, by a 208 to 199 vote, includes a package of $3 trillion in tax cuts and spending to alleviate the negative health and financial impacts of the pandemic. This package also includes financial relief to state, local and tribal governments, an extension to enhanced unemployment benefits, debt collection relief, and direct cash payments to households.
This Act is unique to previous acts, as it addresses many of the faults of the previous bill that excluded immigrants. Six key provisions are included in the HEROES Act that will directly benefit immigrants and immigrant families who were neglected by the previous CARES act.
Cash Payments to Immigrants and their Families
The HEROES Act will provide stimulus money that was previously unavailable by the CARES Act. Direct payments will be issued in the amount of $1,200 for an individual, $2,400 for joint-filers, and $1,200 for up to three dependents with a maximum of $3,600. Undocumented immigrants would be also eligible for the first round of $1,200 checks sent out in April. Immigrants who are eligible for Medicaid will also have access to additional health care benefits.
Relief and Protections for Undocumented Essential Workers
According to the HEROES Act, undocumented immigrants working in essential fields such as health care will be temporary shielded from deportation, as their statuses will be “frozen” under deferred action. They will be able to apply for employment authorization throughout the pandemic. Moreover, unauthorized immigrants will be able to obtain work permits—and may hire these noncitizen immigrants without penalization.
Releasing Low Risk Immigrants from Detention
Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be required to re-evaluate the files of detained immigrants and release those who are not perceived to be a threat to society or who are not necessarily subject to mandatory detention. The HEROES Act pushes ICE to apply low-cost alternatives to detention for low-risk immigrants (such as the use of ankle bracelet monitors).
Additionally, the bill requires detention facilities to provide free and unlimited soap to detainees, as well as phone and video call accessibility to communicate with family and legal representatives.
Facilitating the Arrival and Stay of Medical Professionals
The HEROES Act would speed up visa and green card processing for all foreign medical workers who seek to research or work in fields related to combatting COVID-19. Consulates and U.S. Embassies would be required to prioritize visa interviews for these workers. Emergency appointments would have to be appointed in-person or through a remote platform as a teleconference. Furthermore, foreign-national doctors who have completed their residency in the U.S. are eligible under the HEROES Act to receive permanent residency through an expedited process.
This Act also grants nurses, doctors, and medical researches more flexibility in regards to where they work, which will allow doctors to work where they are most needed without the restrictions under visa controls that previously existed. This means that rather than applying for a new visa, medical professionals with H-1B statuses can transfer between hospitals without re-applying for new H-1B visas.
Medical students are also impacted: they will be able to transfer rotations within their host institution, while also receiving compensation for their work during this pandemic. These students will be able to work outside of their approved program as long as their work relates to COVID-19.
Health Benefits for Immigrants Regardless of Status
The HEROES Act also allows for undocumented immigrants to obtain testing, and treatment, and vaccination (once available) related to COVID-19 without cost, even if the individual does not have health insurance. This extension was not available to immigrants under the CARES Act. The USCIS has already affirmed that treatment in relation to COVID-19 will not make an immigrant a public charge.
While this legislation was passed in the House of Representatives, it is unlikely that it will pass in the Republican-majority Senate or get signed by President Trump, as the White House recently issued a statement opposing the legislation. Even if this act does not directly pass, it is possible that certain provisions of the Act will reappear in the future, perhaps as a bipartisan stimulus and relief bill later in the summer.
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