COVID-19 and Immigration Consequences

Coronavirus, Health Disparities, Immigrant Rights

Lawyers for Civil Rights has been providing legal support to medical and statistical research surrounding the impact of COVID-19 on immigrants.

Important findings based on data gathered during the pandemic in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Phoenix has been published by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). The study involved 336 Latinx immigrants (documented and undocumented). 

Summary of key findings:

  • 23.8% of immigrants believed that immigrants must have proof of legal residency to be eligible for low-cost or free treatment for COVID-19.
  • 26.5% of immigrants believed that hospital emergency departments were the only source for COVID-19–related testing and treatment for uninsured immigrants. 
  • More than one-third of immigrants (34.8%) believed that most medical providers would deny COVID-19 care if an immigrant did not have valid state identification.

Of particular concern was the number of immigrants who believed that using COVID-19 health care services could result in serious immigration consequences. Specifically:

  • 27.4% believed that using public services for COVID-19–related testing and treatment could jeopardize an individual’s immigration prospects by drawing attention to immigration status.
  • 31.6% believed that using public COVID-19–related testing and treatment services could raise questions about an immigrant’s financial standing.

A substantial proportion of participants believed that simply receiving a diagnosis of COVID-19 could have negative immigration consequences. More specifically:

  • 20.5% believed that immigration authorities may consider immigrants who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to be undesirable citizens.
  • 36.0% believed that immigration officials blame immigrants for COVID-19 and will look for excuses to deny their immigration applications.

Finally, 15.5% agreed that, to avoid government attention, it is better for immigrants not to be tested or treated for COVID-19.

The research and data strongly suggests that the perceptions outlined above exist among immigrants nation-wide, regardless of city or region. Greater community-based interventions are critical to fight myths surrounding the coronavirus, especially with respect to “public charge” consequences. Greater multilingual and multicultural community engagement is needed to demystify the immigration and legal consequences of COVID-19 infection and illness. 

While the study did not focus on vaccination, many of the perceived and prevailing misconceptions may be functioning as barriers to vaccine access. 

Click here to download the study: