COVID-19 Benefits: Should Virginia Provide Them to Undocumented Immigrants?

May 21, 2020

Credit MBandman / Flickr, CC

Should state and local governments in Virginia be helping undocumented immigrants who are being left behind in federal recovery programs?

Most federal programs to help people in need are not available to undocumented immigrants. That includes unemployment insurance and federal relief checks.

Laura Goren at the Commonwealth Institute says state and local governments in Virginia can fill in the gaps with things like wage-replacement programs and refundable tax credits. 

“Leaving out many immigrant families from economic aid risks the health as well as the financial stability of our families and communities by forcing people to choose between going to non-essential jobs and being able to stay afloat financially,” Goren explains.

But the idea of government benefits for undocumented immigrants will strike many as unwarranted. 

“Yes, in five years there will be somebody out there screaming and yelling if they find out that 20% of the benefits went to people who didn’t have Social Security numbers. But it won’t be me,” says Stephen Haner at the Thomas Jefferson Institute. He says the real problem is that Virginia can’t afford to help undocumented immigrants. 

“Part of the problem there is that the state doesn’t have cash," he says. "I mean if it wants to do some things with the cash it’s getting from the feds if it can, I think the real challenge there is the state doesn’t have enough money probably to be passing out $1,200 checks to everybody who didn’t get their federal $1,200 check.”

Some local governments have already put together assistance programs for people regardless of their immigration status, including Richmond and Charlottesville.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.