Undocumented immigrants are being affected by COVID-19 like all other New Yorkers, but unlike others they are being systematically excluded from federal economic assistance programs.

The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act included financial support for many families and businesses through this difficult period. But, despite the efforts of some members of Congress, the CARES Act very specifically excluded undocumented immigrants, and in some cases as collateral damage they excluded the children and spouses of undocumented immigrants, even if they are U.S. citizens or green card holders.

The Fiscal Policy Institute has previously written about the exclusion of undocumented immigrants from unemployment insurance. A new data release from the Migration Policy Institute provided to the Fiscal Policy Institute shows the ways many immigrants and their families are left out of another key provision of federal aid.

The CARES Act provides one-time cash payments of $1,200 for each adult with an income of under $75,000 and $150,000 for married couples. Married couples will receive $2,400 if they meet the requirements. For those earning more than $75,000, the payments are reduced by $5 for each $100 over the $75,000 and $150,000 thresholds. If an individual makes over $99,000 or a married couple has an income over $198,000 they are ineligible. The CARES Act also provides parents with $500 for each qualifying child.[1] However, the Act excludes undocumented immigrants, even those who filed income taxes, and it excluded anyone filing a tax return together with an undocumented immigrant. Even in families where just one member files using an ITIN, the entire family is ineligible.[2]

In all, 1.2 million New Yorkers are excluded from the federal assistance. Of these, nearly a third (31 percent) are U.S. citizens or have a green card. Of the 1.2 million excluded, there are 801,000 undocumented immigrants, 221,000 U.S. citizen or green-card holding children and 138,000 U.S. citizen or green-card holding spouses.[3]

According to a 2017 Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) report, undocumented immigrants have contributed $1.1B in local and state taxes.[4] But they are ineligible to receive unemployment benefits.

Some States and Localities are Stepping Up to Provide Economic Relief to Undocumented Immigrants

To at least partly compensate for the federal government’s exclusion of undocumented immigrants, some states and localities have stepped up and provided support for families who are left out of this one-time aid payment. California has collectively gathered $125M for one-time cash payments for undocumented immigrants with the state allocating $75 million and Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, a network of foundations, contributing an additional $50 million.[5] Austin, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle (with King County, Washington), St. Paul, and Washington, DC, along with Montgomery County, Maryland created funds for low-income residents regardless of immigration status as well.[6]

New York City has also stepped up to help undocumented immigrants during this time of crisis. Along with help from the Open Society Foundations, New York City created the COVID-19 Immigrant Emergency Fund, a $20 million fund, which will assist up to 20,000 undocumented workers and their families who are facing financial crises related to COVID-19. A network of community-based organizations and worker centers in New York City will distribute the funds to undocumented families and individuals in the form of one-time emergency relief payments.[7]

A pandemic is no time to  discriminate. Undocumented residents and their families should get the same supports as other New Yorkers to see them through this very difficult period If the federal government chooses to promote anti-immigrant policy and discrimination at the expense of public health, New York State must step up to help these vulnerable individuals and protect all New Yorkers.

By: Cyierra Roldan


[1] CARES Act: Recovery Check FAQ: https://www.grassley.senate.gov/news/news-releases/cares-act-recovery-check-faq

[2] Migration Policy Institute: https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/covid19-immigrants-shut-out-federal-relief

[3] Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysis of data from the 2012-16 American Community Survey (pooled) with assignments of immigration status by MPI researchers and by Jennifer Van Hook of The Pennsylvania State University and James Bachmeier of Temple University. Note that the Migration Policy Institute has somewhat higher estimates of the number of immigrants in New York State than the Center for Migration Studies or Pew Research Center.

[4] Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy: https://itep.org/undocumented-immigrants-state-local-tax-contributions-2017/

[5]Eyewitness News: https://abc7.com/california-undocumented-immigrants-financial-assistance-gavin-newsom-press-conference-daily-update/6105762/

[6] Migration Policy Institute: https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/covid19-immigrants-shut-out-federal-relief

[7] The Official Website of the City of New York: https://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/262-20/mayor-de-blasio-new-york-city-covid-19-immigrant-emergency-relief-program-open