Las Vegas Sun

July 25, 2021

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Excluded from IRS payments, undocumented Nevadans hit hard under COVID-19

DREAMer and TPS News Conference

Steve Marcus

Immigrant rights activist Audrey Peral, shown at a rally for Las Vegas Dreamers in 2017, worries especially about the coronavirus victims and their families who have few resources or safety nets.

Millions of Americans received $1,200 deposits from the IRS over the last week through the CARES Act, a federal stimulus bill intended to help people facing unemployment and financial duress due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One group that won’t receive deposits or checks is undocumented immigrants, who make up approximately 6.8% of Nevada’s population, according to an estimate from Pew Research Center.

Even some legal immigrants won’t receive them. Many immigrant families in Nevada are of mixed-status, meaning one parent might be undocumented while the other is a citizen, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient or a resident alien, all of whom alone would be eligible, said Francine Lipman, a law professor at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law who is also an accountant.

But couples in those situations who file their taxes jointly will not receive stimulus deposits or checks, nor will undocumented parents who have citizen or DACA children, Lipman said.

“If you’re married and filing jointly, both of you have to have a valid Social Security number for work,” she said.

The exclusion of undocumented immigrants from the IRS payments reflects one way in which undocumented people in America, including in Nevada, are being left behind during the pandemic, even as many work essential jobs to keep the country running, immigrant advocates say.

Despite paying taxes, undocumented immigrants are ineligible for unemployment benefits, food stamps and health care benefits through Medicaid and Medicare. That means that those who are out of work, sick, or at risk of being exposed to COVID-19 at their workplace have few resources or safety nets.

“There has been no support, really, in terms of getting help along the way,” said Audrey Peral, economic justice organizer for the nonprofit immigrant rights group Make the Road Nevada.

Like hundreds of thousands of other Nevadans, many undocumented immigrants here are facing joblessness. Some were employed in now-shuttered casinos or as domestic workers, said Bliss Requa-Trautz, director of Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center.

Others are still employed in essential workplaces, such as grocery stores, food establishments, processing plants and even hospitals and health care facilities, often doing the increasingly important work of sanitizing and disinfecting facilities, Requa-Trautz said. Many are independent contractors, such as Uber or Lyft drivers, now primarily transporting people to hospitals and weighing whether to prioritize their income or their health, she said.

“Several of the workers (I know) made the decision not to keep working because they were worried about their health in those circumstances,” Requa-Trautz said.

The fact that undocumented people are less likely to have health insurance and are sometimes afraid to access health resources available to them poses another challenge for the community, said Cecia Alvarado, Nevada state director for the Latino civic engagement organization Mi Familia Vota.

“I think the biggest obstacle we’re facing is fear,” Alvarado said. “Our community fears to come forward. They fear that, ‘If I disclose my immigration status and I test positive, would they deport me?’”

On Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would give undocumented Californians a one-time cash payment of $500 to help during the crisis. The funds will go to about 150,000 adults and come from a mix of taxpayer money and charitable contributions. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio announced Thursday a similar program for undocumented New Yorkers.

Praising Newsom’s decision, Peral said she is aware of efforts in Nevada to push for cash payments here, but nothing has been finalized. Arriba Las Vegas, which focuses on economic justice and immigrant rights, is in touch with organizers in California who encouraged cash payments there, Requa-Trautz said.

“It’s something we’re starting to put together after (Wednesday’s) announcement,” she said.

While monetary assistance through the state is one avenue for helping undocumented people, advocates are also developing community-based resources to immediately help immigrant communities. Some of the biggest needs are help paying for groceries and rent, advocacy for immigrants at risk of being evicted despite the statewide moratorium on evictions, assistance navigating unemployment resources for those who are eligible, and help for those who are ill and must stay home from work without pay, advocates say.

“I’m getting calls every day hearing from families that are struggling,” Peral said. “They don’t have enough money for rent or for food, there is no income and there is no foreseeable future of there being an income. So, it’s definitely some stressful times.”

Nevada’s Hispanic Legislative Caucus has formed a task force to help immigrants and those facing language barriers, said Assemblyman Edgar Flores (D-Las Vegas), chair of the Hispanic Legislative Caucus. The task force has created a website, ayudanevada.com, through which people can speak directly with an expert in Spanish about food distribution centers and other resources in their community, Flores said.

“Marginalized communities are typically the ones that, even when there are resources out there, they are the ones who are least likely to apply, the least likely to know about them, and also are typically the ones that are ineligible,” he said.

The task force this week began delivering food to people who are sick through a partnership with La Bonita Supermarkets, Flores said. It’s one example of how community partners, including hospitals and donors, are stepping up to spread the task force’s “information campaign” so that immigrants, including those who are undocumented, get the help they need.

While the community coordination has been inspiring, Flores recognizes the need for direct financial and other assistance as well given that undocumented people are ineligible for most government benefits. With little money to spare at the state level, the task force is working with Nevada’s federal delegation to include provisions that would benefit undocumented immigrants in future federal stimulus bills, he said.

Nevada’s Democratic Sens. Catherine Cortez-Masto and Jacky Rosen have already cosponsored the Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act, which would ensure equal and universal access to COVID-19 testing and treatment, expand federal benefits programs to include undocumented people, and modify policies that might deter immigrants from seeking health care, among other measures.

“They already are emphasizing it, are already proposing bills that specifically address those gaps in services for our community and (they’re) 100% on it,” Flores said. “But they’re also very honest about the realities of politics and the difficulties of working in a bipartisan manner.”

With more than 2,700 people in Clark County and over 3,300 Nevadans having tested positive for COVID-19, Flores stressed that everyone is only as safe as those around them, regardless of immigration status.

“We should all care, because if there’s one more person out there working, that’s one more person that could get your family sick,” he said.