Immigrants Improperly Excluded from Unemployment Benefits

Coronavirus, Employment, Immigrant Rights

Lawyers for Civil Rights has identified repeated instances of immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) who are being improperly denied unemployment benefits by the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA). The immigrants, including TPS recipients from Haiti, Honduras and El Salvador, are all legally permitted to receive unemployment benefits, particularly because their status provides lawful employment authorization. Nevertheless, DUA has demonstrated a pattern and practice of wrongfully denying claims or terminating benefits. Some immigrants are also being forced to return the money they rightfully received based on their work history and valid immigration status. DUA’s policies and practices against TPS recipients raise legal concerns surrounding exclusion and discrimination along the lines of race and national origin. Affected individuals include Haitian, Salvadoran, and Honduran immigrants.  

In a letter demanding immediate corrective action, Lawyers for Civil Rights identified three affected individuals affiliated with Centro Presente and Haitian-Americans United. Their experiences illustrate the scope and scale of this problem and demonstrate that DUA has failed to comply with federal and state law. The three identified individuals are the tip of the iceberg. DUA is improperly denying access to life- saving benefits to hundreds of individuals across the Commonwealth in the midst of the COVID- 19 pandemic and its related economic crisis. 

DUA’s treatment of TPS recipients exacerbates the pandemic crisis, particularly food and housing insecurity, across the state. Lawyers for Civil Rights is demanding emergency action from DUA, including a review of its policies, procedures, and training protocols to rectify this systemic problem across all similarly-situated TPS recipients in the Commonwealth. 

“This is not the first time state agencies fail to keep up with immigration legal requirements. In Massachusetts, we have seen problems across the Registry of Motor Vehicles and now the Department of Unemployment Assistance. State agencies need much more legal and technical expertise surrounding the complexities and nuances of immigration law. Without strategic state coordination and oversight across agencies, we will continue to see textbook examples of discrimination and exclusion against immigrants. State agencies are leaving immigrant families in the lurch,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights.

DUA’s wrongful denial of unemployment assistance was brought to the attention of Lawyers for Civil Rights by Centro Presente and Haitian-Americans United.   

The letter to DUA is available here: