Carina has lived in South Florida, where she works as a customer-service representative for an insurance agency, for almost twenty years. She rents a two-story home on a quiet street in a diverse neighborhood, which she shares with her two daughters—Karina and Carolina, both in their early twenties—and also her brother and their parents. A few cousins live nearby. The older of her daughters, Karina, works at a performing-arts center downtown, where she’s risen from intern to box-office manager. The center closed indefinitely last week, on account of the coronavirus, and her pay has been halved. Carolina had been working the cosmetics counter at Macy’s. She was recently sent home indefinitely, the result of pandemic-related belt-tightening; she hoped to be brought back when it’s safe to touch the faces of strangers again. Carina’s father, whom they all call Tata, is a mechanic who does house calls. He usually brings in the most money, but many of his customers are now balking at having him visit. Carina’s employer has remained open, and she has continued to go in to the office, working from nine until six o’clock every day, for her usual pay. But it’s never been enough to support everyone.

Carina has other worries. Her mother, who is in her late sixties, had open-heart surgery two decades ago, in their native Argentina, and still has heart problems—in recent years, she has suffered multiple heart attacks and a stroke. (She asked that I not use her name.) She left Argentina for the United States not long after the heart surgery, following Tata, who had immigrated two years before and had sent money home so that she, their son, and Carina and her two daughters could join him. (The father of Carina’s children stayed in Argentina; he and Carina are divorced.) Now, when Tata and his wife need medical care, they go to a clinic nearby, which offers free services to those who qualify, including those who—like Tata and his wife, and like Carina and her daughters—are uninsured and undocumented. (Karina and Carolina are both DACA recipients.)

“If my grandparents need medical attention, I don’t know what would happen,” Karina said recently. The clinic has limited resources—it lacks a ventilator and has been closed since March 20th. (According to a voice-mail recording, the clinic is closed for spring break and will reopen on March 30th.) Karina went on, “Most Americans have health care. Most of my friends have it. They’re calm about it. They go to private doctors and stuff.” It is already harder for the undocumented to get medical attention, Karina said, and, “in times like this, when everybody needs it, it will be even harder.” She wondered how her family members would be asked to identify themselves at a hospital. “They have only expired Argentinean passports,” she said.

Tata used to talk about returning to Argentina, but the virus has dampened his enthusiasm for the idea—he worries that it could be even more dangerous there than in the U.S., judging from the conversations he’s been having with those back home. “He tries to be the macho man,” Karina told me; he has been using FaceTime to reassure his brother in Argentina, “telling him that God would protect them,” Carolina said, but also encouraging family members to wash their hands frequently. Carolina and Karina wonder whether their grandfather ultimately will have a choice about where he lives. “I’ve seen how ICE is going into homes and trying to deport families at this vulnerable time,” Carolina said. “That’s so scary.”

On March 16th, Immigration and Customs Enforcement carried out a raid in Los Angeles; the agency subsequently issued a statement promising that it would delay certain actions for the time being, though not all. “During the COVID-19 crisis, ICE will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities, such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, accredited health clinics, and emergent or urgent care facilities, except in the most extraordinary of circumstances,” the statement read. “Individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement.” Many immigrants remain frightened and are unsure whom to trust. Karina and Carolina watch Univision, but for news they rely mostly on Twitter users whom they regard as reliable, such as the fellow DACA recipient and immigration-rights advocate Juan Escalante. On Twitter, many shared a Los Angeles Times report on the recent ICE raid, and a Vice News story about hunger strikes in detention centers in New Jersey, where undocumented people have been protesting unsafe conditions, fearing that the arrival of COVID-19 will turn the centers into death camps.

If Carina were to become the only member of the household with income, I wondered, how would they get by? “We won’t,” her two said. “We’re concerned about rent payments,” Karina added. “If Mom loses hours, we’ll need help.” They had heard that Congress was considering sending a thousand dollars or more to each citizen. “I feel like we won’t be prioritized with everyone else, since it’s not really our country,” Carolina told me. “Especially our mother and grandparents,” Karina added. Karina and Carolina were born in Mendoza but have lived in the U.S. since they were a few years old. “This is where our life is,” Karina said. “This is all we know.” But, in some ways, Carolina said, they all “live in the shadows.”

A week earlier, at a White House press briefing, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had told reporters, “Americans need cash now, and the President wants to get cash now—and I mean in the next two weeks.” What did the sisters make of this? “When the President says Americans will get checks in the mail, we are not sure who he means,” Karina told me. “Does he mean people like us, who have lived here almost our entire lives? Even though we are not American on paper?”

On Friday, Congress passed a two-trillion-dollar relief bill, which calls for sending payments of up to twelve hundred dollars to each American, with additional money provided for dependents. (The payments are phased out above certain income thresholds.) It also bolsters the unemployment insurance that states offer, for up to four months, and makes independent contractors and those who are self-employed eligible for that insurance. Carina’s family pays taxes, Karina told me, and they had become more hopeful that they would be included when relief checks are sent out.

But, according to Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, who has analyzed the bill, many mixed-status families—a category that, Hincapié noted, includes some eighty per cent of immigrant families—appear to be excluded. “A U.S.-citizen wife who is married to an undocumented husband, or Dreamer children with undocumented parents—those families, if they’re filing tax returns together, would not be eligible for the cash payment,” Hincapié said. Unemployment insurance will be offered only to immigrants with work permits, which Carina and her parents don’t have. And, though the bill provides funding for hospitals and health centers to offer testing and treatment for COVID-19, “it has no requirement that those services be provided to patients who are uninsured,” Hincapié told me.

Kerri Talbot, a lawyer who works for the Immigration Hub, an advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., said, “If we don’t open up emergency Medicaid and a state option for Medicaid to cover undocumented immigrants, then we’re gonna have trouble on our hands, because people aren’t gonna be able to pay for treatment.” This would be an issue for Dreamers, too, she noted, and “people with protective status and new green-card holders.” She and Hincapié both hope that subsequent relief bills will address these gaps in support. “In the meantime,” Hincapié said, “people are going to be suffering economically and health-wise, which puts us all at greater risk.”



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