By Marv Knox
Through its extensive network of churches, missionaries and nonprofit partners, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship serves thousands of immigrants who live in the United States. They are not government statistics; we know them personally. They are our friends and neighbors—in colonias along the U.S.-Mexico border, Eastern Seaboard cities, and neighborhoods in-between.
Because we know them well, we know their stories. They have told us why they came to America—to make a better life for their kids, of course, but also to escape systematic violence, extortion, persecution, ecological degradation and starvation. We also know their dreams—not just to prosper personally, but to contribute to their adopted homeland, to work hard and to make life better for everyone around them.
Our hearts have broken as our immigrant sisters and brothers endured the worst blows of COVID-19. Many have been infected, and some have died, their struggles for health hampered by limited access to medical care and restricted ability to pay for what was available.
Many more have suffered financially because of the pandemic. They were the first to lose their jobs. They are the people who harvested your produce and bused your restaurant table. They cleaned your office and paved your streets and pressed your laundry. Their jobs were the first to go when the economy tightened. And even though they paid taxes like the rest of us, many did not qualify to receive the financial support that kept the rest of us going.
As people of faith, we see the divine stamp in all people—immigrant and citizen alike. We believe all people are created equal. As people who strive for integrity, we believe our society—guided by government—should treat all people equally. As people who believe in “justice for all,” we believe all who share this space called the United States should enjoy the same access to protections for life and liberty.
Consequently, we respectfully request these provisions in the next COVID-19 stimulus bill:
- Guarantee COVID-19 testing and treatment to all U.S. residents, regardless of their immigration status.
This request reflects a practical necessity. Only by diagnosing and treating all people infected by the novel coronavirus can we control the pandemic and restore health to the nation at-large. If immigrants cannot access testing and treatment, particularly through Medicaid, their infection rates will escalate, and without recourse, they will carry the disease to others.
Moreover, this request stirs an existential issue of human decency. People should not be allowed to suffer and die simply because of an accident of birth. No person ever chose where to be born, and immigrants on our soil should not face disability and death simply because they came to this life in another country.
- Allow members of “mixed families” to receive stimulus checks.
According to the CARES Act, a Social Security number is required to unlock the door to stimulus support. Only families whose entire households file taxes using Social Security numbers qualify to receive a stimulus check. This provision punishes citizens who have the “wrong” parents or spouse without a Social Security number.
This provision denies the essential humanity of individuals, based upon their families of origin. It also perpetuates injustice, because it denies 9.9 million tax-paying immigrants access to relief supported by the taxes they already paid. They pay taxes through an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), even though they do not have a Social Security number. This perpetuates injustice. We call on Congress to allow individuals who file taxes using an ITIN to receive stimulus checks.
- Increase the minimum benefit available from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by 15 percent.
Hunger hits close to home. Through our networks, we operate feeding programs to support families haunted by hunger in this season of pandemic. Lines snake out of church parking lots, where we distribute food boxes, and trail down city streets and rural roads. We have placed food in the trunks of hard-working neighbors who never, ever have sought help. Our churches have been generous with donations of cash and food, but they—and we—cannot keep up with the demand.
SNAP is the nation’s best anti-hunger program, and it has the potential to protect families—and especially children—from food insecurity. It also makes great economic sense, because recipients spend their benefits in their own communities, lifting their local economies.
You can help vulnerable immigrants and the hungry by speaking on their behalf. The Senate is returning to work on September 8, while negotiations on another stimulus bill continues. Find the contact information for your Senators by clicking here. Then, contact your Senators and press for these policies to be included in the next stimulus bill. Now more than ever they depend on your voice.
Marv Knox is coordinator of Fellowship Southwest, an ecumenical network affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, stretching along the U.S.-Mexico border.