Washington’s philanthropic and community based organizations have come together to request that Governor Inslee take immediate steps to protect and support immigrant and refugee Washingtonians amid the COVID-19 public health crisis. They submitted the following letter to Governor Inslee on May 4, 2020.
Dear Governor Inslee:
Thank you for your leadership in addressing the novel coronavirus pandemic in Washington State, and for your ongoing commitment to racial equity and inclusion. In these challenging times, we are learning that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting the health of already vulnerable communities of color, including immigrants and refugees. We also know that the effective shut down of much of the economy required by physical distancing is having a disproportionate impact on workers in lower-wage industries and on families with less income and economic stability.
We are alarmed by data from the Department of Health that indicate Hispanic/Latinx residents make up 28% of COVID-19 cases in Washington though they constitute only 13% of our state’s population. This reflects existing inequities in our society, and the influence of federal anti-immigrant policies. Compounding the impact of the pandemic are decisions being made at the federal level that exclude immigrants and refugees, including 250,000 immigrants without documentation living in Washington State, and their families. Pre-existing policies, many of them adopted under the current federal administration endanger immigrant and refugee communities: policies that discourage immigrants from applying for public benefits, that increase enforcement, detention and deportation at the expense of due process, and that undermine refugee resettlement programs and infrastructure. These actions have already negatively impacted the health of immigrant and refugee families and communities. And now that the pandemic is here, these circumstances have only been exacerbated as many immigrants and refugees are serving as essential workers, exposed to the virus with inadequate safety equipment or access to health care and services. Immigrants and refugees are putting their own health and well-being at risk to make important contributions for the health of our communities and economy.
Building on Washington State’s strong record of welcoming immigrants, we must do all that we can as a state to ensure that immigrant and refugee communities are not subject to disproportionate impact of the current crisis, but are positioned to be a dynamic part of the recovery.
Washington’s philanthropic and community based organizations urge the State to protect and support immigrant and refugee Washingtonians. Specifically, we are requesting that you exercise your executive authority to act on the following:
- Ensure that all immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, have access to COVID-19 information, testing, and treatment. Too often, due to lack of language access and cultural competency, immigrant and refugee communities are the last to know about preventive health measures including social distancing requirements, what services they are eligible for, and who they may contact for assistance. We hear accounts of health care providers who are not providing interpreter services for telehealth visits, essentially barring LEP individuals from accessing these vital services. Moreover, while we appreciate the state’s expansion of AEM to cover COVID-19 testing and treatment for immigrants up to 138% FPL, people above this income level are ineligible for this program and for subsidized coverage available to other Washington residents.
- Ensure access to safety-net programs for all eligible low-income immigrants, including: Health, nutrition, rental and cash assistance and unemployment insurance programs. Community education efforts around critical safety-net programs, and the application processes for these programs must be responsive to the interpretation and translation needs of all Washingtonians.
- Establish a direct relief fund to provide cash and unemployment assistance to immigrants and refugees who are ineligible for federal aid. We can build on our shared experience to fund community-based efforts around Census outreach through public and private dollars to address the immediate crisis and for the long term.
- Hold the line against immigration enforcement, because it puts immigrants and refugees at risk of exposure to the coronavirus. Enforce the Keep Washington Working Act, halting collaboration between jurisdictions in Washington State and ICE solely for the purpose of civil immigration enforcement, and advocate for the release of immigrants, especially vulnerable populations, from the NW Detention Center.
- Protect critical legal and human services for immigrant and refugee community members. Immigrant and refugee communities were already experiencing crisis under the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant policies, and those challenges are now being exacerbated by the pandemic and resulting recession. In the coming months, the State will be forced to make difficult budgetary decisions. We urge you to prevent yet another crisis from disproportionately impacting immigrants and refugees by protecting critical programs from budget cuts – including but not limited to legal services for naturalization and deportation defense, health and social services supporting low-income immigrant and refugee families, educational services supporting English language learners in early learning and K-12 education, and undocumented youths’ access to higher education.
Washington’s economy has benefited enormously from the economic, cultural and civic contributions of immigrants regardless of their immigration status. In the current pandemic, Washington is relying on essential workers, including immigrants and refugees, to keep the state running and economy afloat. In the fight against this pandemic, we are all in this together, and we urge you to do everything possible to alleviate the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the lives of immigrant and refugee Washingtonians during this critical time. We look forward to working with you in advancing Washington’s response to the pandemic through strong and decisive exercise of your executive authority in a way that will help all Washingtonians weather the economic crisis and pave the way for our eventual road to a collective recovery.
Again, we thank you for your leadership in these unprecedented times and are at your disposal to discuss how we can work even more closely together to meet the needs of all Washingtonians. Should you have any questions, please direct them to Rich Stolz, Executive Director of OneAmerica and Fo-Ching Lu, President of SYL Foundation.
WA’s Philanthropic and Community-Based Organizations
Alliance for a Healthy Washington
Asian Counseling and Referral Service
Bezos Family Foundation
Burien/White Center Migra Watch
Chinese Information and Service Center
Coalition for Refugees from Burma
College Success Foundation
Columbia Legal Services
Community Foundation of Snohomish County
Doctors for America
East African Community Services
Fair Work Center
Greater Tacoma Community Foundation
Health Care Is a Human Right WA
India Association of Western Washington
Ingersoll Gender Center
Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle
King County Immigrant & Refugee Commission
La Casa Hogar
Latino Community Fund of WA State
MAPS-AMEN (American Muslim Empowerment Network)
MCNA – Muslim Community and Neighborhood Association
Northwest Area Foundation
Northwest Health Law Advocates (NoHLA)
Northwest Children’s Fund (NWCF)
Para Los Ninos
Progreso, Latino Progress
Project Access Northwest
PSARA (Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action)
Refugee Women’s Alliance (REWA)
Renton Area Youth and Family Services (RAYS)
Seattle Education Access
Sexual Violence Law Center
Sheng-Yen Lu Foundation (SYL Foundation)
The Compleat Voice
Stolte Family LLC
The Runa Group
United Way of King County
Washington Community Action Network
Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network
Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Washington State Coalition for Language Access
Washington Women’s Foundation
West African Community Council
Yakima Valley Community Foundation
YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish