Pelosi's HEROES Act Would Protect Immigrant Health Workers on the Frontline of Coronavirus Pandemic From Deportation

A $3 trillion coronavirus relief package released by House Democrats on Tuesday includes new efforts to protect and support immigrants in the U.S., including those on the frontlines of responding to the pandemic.

Under the HEROES Act, which was introduced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, one of the measures seeking to support immigrant frontline workers is a measure that would allow "expedited green cards" for immigrant physicians on the frontlines of the country's coronavirus response.

The bill also seeks to expedite the processing of temporary work visas and immigrant visas for health care workers looking to work in the U.S. amid the pandemic.

Under the measure, Homeland Security chief Chad Wolf would be expected to "expedite the processing of applications and petitions seeking employment or classification of an alien as a nonimmigrant to practice medicine, provide healthcare, engage in medical research, or participate in a graduate medical education or training program involving the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of COVID-19."

The provision reflects the goals already laid out in a separate bipartisan Senate bill introduced in late April by Sens. Richard Durbin (D-IL), Chris Coons (D-DE), David Perdue (R-GA) and Todd Young (R-IN) seeking to authorize as many as 40,000 immigrant visas for nurses and doctors.

The HEROES Act would further seek to temporarily extend application deadlines for non-citizens who are living in the U.S. on temporary work visas and immigration visas and whose status may be set to expire during the coronavirus pandemic.

It also grants permission for green cards that went unused in fiscal year 2020 to be released in later years.

If passed, the HEROES Act would also seek to temporarily shield non-citizen essential workers in the U.S., including those working outside the health sector, from deportation.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the act states that certain workers would be "deemed to be in a period of deferred action and authorized for employment."

Meanwhile, employers would also receive certain protections making it easier for them to continue to employ workers who might otherwise have been removed from the country.

The House bill also sets out to see naturalization ceremonies, which have for the most-part been delayed, carried out remotely amid the pandemic.

Under the measure, qualifying individuals would be allowed to participate in a remote ceremony, instead of having to wait for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency's suspension of all in-person services to lift.

Laid out under a subsection titled "Immigration Matters," the measures outlined in the HEROES Act address the specific needs of immigrant workers in the U.S. in ways that advocates say previous stimulus measures have so far failed to do.

The bill further appears to allow undocumented immigrants who pay taxes to receive government stimulus checks, after they were cut out of the last round of relief.

Under the last $2 trillion relief package, undocumented taxpayers were unable to access government relief checks because they do not have social security numbers.

Families with mixed status couples, where only one spouse had a social security number, were also cut out of receiving relief, as the measure required both spouses in a marriage to have social security numbers.

The HEROES Act, however, only appears to require the disclosure of a Tax Identification Number (TIN) to receive a $1,200 relief check, with the bill further requiring only one spouse in a married couple to provide their TIN to receive the funding.

In a statement published online, The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) welcomed the HEROES Act, praising its recognition of "immigrants' critical contributions as essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic."

The NYIC also applauded the measure for providing "critical economic and healthcare assistance for every family regardless of status."

"It's about time that Washington prioritizes the health and well-being of America's families over corporations," said Steve Choi, executive director of the NYIC.

"We applaud the House Democrats for their comprehensive package providing healthcare and economic protections to the millions of immigrant essential workers who were left out of four previous relief packages."

Calling on the U.S. Senate to support the bill, Choi said: "The HEROES Act is a chance to support the families disproportionately impacted by this pandemic and left unemployed, uninsured, facing reduced wages or the loss of a breadwinner. It's a chance to ensure the health and security of everyone who calls America home."

In remarks introducing the HEROES Act, Pelosi said: "We must 'think big' for the people now because if we don't, it will cost more in lives and livelihood later. Not acting is the most expensive course. We are presenting a plan to do what is necessary to deal with the coronavirus crisis and make sure we can get the country back to work and school safely."

"There are those who said, 'Let's just pause,'" Pelosi said, appearing to take aim at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's calls for Congress to press pause on further stimulus efforts. "But the families who are suffering know that hunger doesn't take a pause. Rent doesn't take a pause. Bills don't take a pause. The hardship of losing a job or tragically losing a loved one doesn't take a pause. This is a historic challenge and, therefore, a momentous opportunity for us to meet the needs of the American people to save their lives, their livelihoods and our democracy."

Closing out her remarks, Pelosi recalled the words of the poet John Donne, who wrote: "'No man is an island, entire of itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main...Each man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee'."

"America's heart is full of love; and our tradition is one of optimism and hope," Pelosi said. "Let us pray for those who are affected, let us pray for a cure and a vaccine and let us pray to God to continue to bless America."

Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, delivers a statement on the HEROES Act aid package introduced by House democrats, May 12, 2020 on Capitol Hill, in Washington D.C. The legislation provides nearly $1 trillion for states and cities, and 'hazard pay' for essential workers affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty

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