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Immigrants in a pandemic: Coronavirus answers for immigrant and Spanish-language communities

Javier Arce
Arizona Republic

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Julio Hernandez, 41, operates a hot dog stand in west Phoenix. His stand has seen a sharp drop in sales because he can only offer food “to go” under an order by Gov. Doug Ducey.

"The situation is harsh, due to the crisis. Many people have already stocked up on food at home, and they hardly go out to eat on the street, and that is reflected in our sales," Hernandez said. "But the economic impact is less important when it comes to protecting health."

Following advice from health care professions to protect himself from the coronavirus is something he takes very seriously.

"It is not for me alone but for the people around me and who I love," said Hernandez, who lives in Glendale, Arizona.

He said he has friends who have told him they are afraid of going to the doctor because they don’t have “papers.”

"When someone asks me if I have family or friends with coronavirus, I answer, 'not yet,'" said Hernández, "I know that the day will come when this will overtake us, and we will start seeing people around us infected, and the best weapon to protect us from the virus is to be informed.”

For undocumented immigrants, navigating the coronavirus pandemic is trickier. There is some information out in Spanish, but that does not mean people are seeking care when they need it.

Here's a few answers to common questions.

Can undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. receive coronavirus-related medical care?

Yes. This is confirmed by lawyers and immigration authorities, who encourage the immigrant community not to be afraid to call a public health institution if they experience symptoms of COVID-19, as the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus is known.

"It is 100% safe," Ray Ybarra-Maldonado, a Phoenix immigration attorney, said in an interview with La Voz. "The government gave the green light so that the immigrant community, regardless of their legal status, can receive medical attention in case they get COVID-19, without fear of future repercussions.”

In information released by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services through their website, whose link was provided to us by Phoenix spokeswoman Maria Elena Upson, it is clarified that anyone who has symptoms similar to the coronavirus (COVID -19), including immigrants, will have no impact when seeking medical treatment or necessary preventive services.

According to the agency, such treatment or preventive services will not adversely affect any immigration-related process in the future, despite the Trump administration’s implementation of a new public charge rule that makes some immigrants ineligible for green cards or citizenship if they use public resources.

The public charge rule does not restrict access to tests, detection or treatment of communicable diseases, including COVID-19, the agency said. Additionally, the rule does not restrict access to vaccines for children or adults to prevent vaccine-preventable diseases.

As of Thursday morning, coronavirus cases in Arizona had exceeded 500, with six deaths recorded. Globally, the number of deaths from COVID-19 had exceeded 22,000, with more than 490 thousand contagions accounted for.

Can I apply for public benefits if I need them?

According to USCIS, immigrants prevented from working or attending school because of the COVID-19 pandemic, can apply for public benefits, and those that do will be exempted from public charge benefits.

 In such cases, immigrants applying for immigration visas and other benefits in the future will be required to provide explanation with relevant supporting documentation.

The agency said it will consider all such evidence to the extent that it is relevant and credible.

Ybarra Maldonado, the Phoenix immigration attorney, said there are several non-governmental organizations working to inform immigrants about seeking medical attention during the coronavirus outbreak.

Should I travel to Mexico?

U.S. immigration authorities recommend that immigrants postpone travel to Mexico and all other international travel based on The World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic tied to the COVID-19.

Various countries have imposed sanitary controls and travel restrictions.

According to the USCIS, if you are living abroad and have symptoms of respiratory disease, you should contact the local health authorities.

Mexican immigrants in the U.S. can also contact the Mexican Embassy or local Mexican consulates for additional information.

If you experience symptoms traveling to Mexico, you must report your condition to officials at official points of entry. If you experience symptoms within two weeks of arriving in Mexico from the U.S., you should call 800-0044-800.

Here is a list of organizations that provide information and resources to immigrants and foreign nationals in the U.S.: