The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted civilian lives internationally, yet the most devastation is undeniably recognized on the margins of society. The coronavirus is a worldwide health crisis that has revealed a countrywide social issue: Inequality in America. Certain groups are inexcusably marginalized in our country, making them especially vulnerable in times of worldwide catastrophe. Immigrants are the quintessence of these social disparities, representing a group that has been socially and civilly relegated in our nation.
COVID-19 may serve as a call to action for reform of the immigration system in America. The pandemic has taken a toll on humanity as a whole, as well as made clear the ways in which a global crisis more deeply effects marginalized groups, in particularly immigrants. This article will detail the overwhelming weight that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on the U.S. immigration system and immigrants in America.
The first and most prominent impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. immigration system is the postponement and temporary termination of immigration services, including but not limited to: Visa processing overseas, processing of certain immigration benefits, U.S. border entry, immigration court hearings, interviews for immigration and asylum benefits, biometrics appointments and naturalization oath ceremonies. The delay of critical immigration processes has put tens of thousands of people on hold for their U.S. citizenship. The domino effect of this? Tens of thousands in poverty and/or immigrant detention centers. The domino effect of that? Tens of thousands of positive COVID-19 cases discovered within immigrant detention centers, due to ICE’s negligence to follow health code regulations. A research study published in JAMA (2020) confirmed this failure to follow health guidelines, revealing that coronavirus rates amongst ICE detainees were 13 times higher than the U.S. average.₁
COVID-19 has severely impacted the U.S. economy, leaving many people, businesses and state governments in financial predicaments. Congress responded, passing multiple stimulus measures and pandemic relief payments to help support those who were experiencing monetary issues. Economic relief payments were provided to millions of people across the nation, however, the majority of the immigrant population was left out. Non-citizens who file federal income taxes, lawfully-present non-citizens, their families, and even American citizens who jointly filed taxes with a non-citizen, were denied eligibility. Congresses refusal to offer legislative relief to the majority of non-citizens in America left millions of immigrants and their families in financial turmoil, struggling to survive during a time of economic unpredictability. The U.S. government’s failure to offer assistance to individuals operating through the U.S. immigration system represents another substantial issue created by COVID-19.
Furthermore, the spread of the coronavirus in America prompted the Trump Administration to implement a proclamation that served to further complicate and disrupt the legal immigration process. The proclamation temporarily suspended the entry of certain immigrants into America, claiming that this action would help preserve employment opportunities for U.S. citizens and hamper the spreading virus. The immigration ban later expanded to include the prohibition of entry by some employment-based, nonimmigrant visa types as well. The effect of the proclamation devastated the immigrant population, separating families and further elongating their journey to becoming a U.S. citizen lawfully.
1. Erfani P, Uppal N, Lee CH, Mishori R, Peeler KR. COVID-19 Testing and Cases in Immigration Detention Centers, April-August 2020. JAMA. Published online October 29, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.21473