Last night, Senate Republicans released their long-awaited COVID-relief legislative package, the HEALS Act. Unfortunately, and in contrast to the HEROES Act that passed the House months ago, the new Senate bill is no match for the moment. Unsurprisingly, the GOP proposal reflects the divisiveness, corruption and plutocracy that characterizes the Trump presidency.
From our point of view as immigrant advocates, the HEALS Act fails on the following counts:
- Excludes mixed-status families that pay their taxes like other American families. Prior COVID relief packages deliberately excluded families composed of citizens and immigrants. Any family composed of U.S. citizens and at least one member who did not have a Social Security number were left out of direct relief. As a result, 2 million families who pay their full share of taxes were needlessly excluded. Despite posturing from Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio and North Carolina GOP Senator Thom Tillis about including this provision, they didn’t deliver. The Senate GOP bill doesn’t fix this fundamentally unfair penalty.
- Loanshark treatment of USCIS. In sharp contrast to its treatment of CBP, the $1.2 billion in the HEALS Act for USCIS comes with interest, surcharges and payback requirements. USCIS is a fee-based agency that is on the road to bankruptcy because White House aide Stephen Miller has piled mountains of punitive measures and red tape on benefits processors and has used the cover of the pandemic to effectively shut off millions of fee-based applications for legal immigration. Under the HEALS Act, USCIS would be required to pay back the $1.2 billion loan, pay interest to the U.S. Treasury and charge a steep surcharge of 10 percent on all applications.
- No strings attached $1.6 billion for CBP – the same agency acting as Trump’s political police force in American cities. Trump and the GOP want to shovel more money to the agency that currently serves as Trump’s “little green men” invading blue cities to incite white backlash. No way. CBP doesn’t deserve a penny more until they stop arresting peaceful protesters and institute far-reaching accountability reforms.
- No work permits for DACA, TPS and essential workers. The HEROES Act ensures that DACA recipients, TPS holders and essential workers are protected with work permits so they can live without fear and continue to contribute to key sectors of the American economy. The Senate GOP bill misses the chance to resolve their uncertainty and deliver renewals of Employment Authorization Documents (EADs).
- Covering for Trump’s raid of military budgets for his border wall by backfilling pet projects. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) included a provision to backfill $260 million for funding a military ship construction project that Trump had previously raided to pay for his border wall. The Congress has repeatedly opposed Trump’s border wall and the constitutionally dubious emergency declaration that Trump uses to raid funds from FEMA, National Guard and military readiness. With this measure, the wink-wink nod-nod GOP is working to backfill military projects after the fact, giving Trump the greenlight to steal again.
According to Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch and former Chief Counsel of USCIS:
At a time when CBP agents are acting as Trump’s personal police force and attacking peaceful protesters, the Trump administration and Senate Republicans are proposing we give them a no strings attached $1.6 billion sweetheart deal without any conditions of reform or accountability. Meanwhile, with USCIS facing the prospects of furloughs and disruptions of green card and visa processing and DACA renewals, Republicans are intent on treating the agency the way a loan shark would – insisting on an interest-bearing loan that would require a 10 percent surcharge on future USCIS applications. The underlying motivations behind the differing treatment aren’t exactly hard to guess.
According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:
The best way to fight this once-in-a-generation public health crisis and rebuild our economy is to embrace policies that recognize we are all in this fight together. This unity is not some gauzy aspiration but a hard, pragmatic truth. We won’t get it right until relief for all of us means relief for all of us. The HEALS Act fails to strengthen our collective national response. Cash assistance to American families who pay taxes and have members who are undocumented? No, they say, evidently fearing rightwing commentators will complain. Relief for the overwhelmed and underappreciated USCIS? They help immigrants, so they get help only if they jack up fees, pay back the loan and pay usurious interest. Work permits for those saving our lives? No, says a party more interested in protecting employers from lawsuits than in protecting native-born and foreign-born essential workers from death. Enough funding to support Americans thrown out of work? No, but more than enough money for Trump’s paramilitary arm and his costly and ineffective border wall. Let us hope that the upcoming negotiations lead to a bill that actually responds to the multiple challenges we face as a nation.