Our state’s recovery must include immigrant communities

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Our state’s recovery must include immigrant communities

State lawmakers must invest in immigrants excluded from federal relief & state benefit programs

By - February 2, 2021

No matter who we are or where we come from, we all deserve the opportunity to thrive. When people fall on hard times, they shouldn’t go without food on the table or a roof over their heads – and in the midst of a pandemic and economic crisis, it’s especially important that all of us have the ability to meet our basic needs.

Yet even before the onset of COVID-19, immigrant people and families faced disproportionate barriers to, and targeted exclusion from, safety net programs designed to support people to stay healthy and meet their basic needs. Discriminatory eligibility criteria and fears about public charge (a part of federal immigration policy that makes some immigrants who receive public benefits potentially ineligible for permanent residency) bar immigrants from connecting with vital programs like unemployment insurance and food assistance.

Now, as the pandemic fuels ongoing economic devastation, the exclusion of many immigrants from existing public benefit programs and federal COVID-19 relief has exacerbated the harms of the crisis for undocumented people and their families throughout Washington state. Even as immigrant workers are helping sustain critical sectors of the economy, many of them have been left to navigate the pandemic without a lifeline.

The Budget & Policy Center’s new brief, “A just recovery requires state lawmakers include immigrants,” asserts that Washington state will not effectively recover from the COVID-19 economic crisis without action from state leaders to invest in immigrant communities.

As working people, small business owners, and consumers, immigrants help drive Washington’s economic engine. Immigrants are also taxpayers. Undocumented people in particular pay more than $300 million in state and local taxes each year, and have contributed nearly $400 million to the state and federal unemployment trust fund over the past ten years. Despite these significant contributions, Washington immigrants have been wrongly excluded from an estimated $1 billion in cash assistance in the wake of COVID-19. (See graphic below for more detail.)

Click on image to enlarge.

In the face of this, immigrant workers, families, and communities across Washington state have organized to resist. They are calling on state policymakers to take a series of actions that address the many gaps (and targeted exclusions) that deny immigrants access to public benefits and make it harder to meet basic needs.

State lawmakers must establish a state income support system accessible to undocumented workers, so that all people – regardless of immigration status – can access an ongoing source of assistance when faced with job loss and heightened economic insecurity. They must also increase investment in the Washington Immigrant Relief Fund to ensure that emergency cash assistance is available to support undocumented people to cover urgent expenses. A proposal to do so is rightly under consideration in the legislature now, but the proposed increase is only a share of the aid that many immigrants have been excluded from in the last year.

Washington’s elected leaders must act quickly to include immigrants in our state’s recovery strategy with deeper investment in communities that have been shut out of federal relief and permanent policy fixes to remedy long-standing injustices.