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The decision could impact thousands of frontline medical workers helping to fight the COVID-19 crisis.

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This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Jaisal Noor: Welcome to The Real News, I’m Jaisal Noor. Dreamers, immigrants who came to the US as children without official documentation or awaiting a key Supreme court decision that could end their legal status even as an estimated 50,000 work in the healthcare industry and are helping fight Covid-19. A recent court filing stated termination of DACA during this national emergency would be catastrophic. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is deporting immigrants who have been infected with Covid-19 to Latin American countries. ABC News reports that Guatemalan health officials said 75% of migrants from a single flight later tested positive for Corona virus. The United States is the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic and infections and death rates among marginalized communities have skyrocketed, especially in prisons and detention centers where detainees have launched hunger strikes in protests. Well, joining us to discuss all of this is Adonia Simpson. She’s the director of the Family Defense Program at Americans for Immigrant Justice. Thank you so much for joining us.

Adonia Simpson: Thank you so much for having me.

Jaisal Noor: So the issue of the dreamers, people that were given this DACA status in 2012 by the Obama Administration, we know that the Trump Administration, they tried to revoke that. Dreamers are now awaiting a Supreme court decision that could come at any time, maybe sometime in June. Talk about the situation they’re in the tens of thousands that are on the front lines risking their lives to fight Covid-19 and at the same time awaiting this decision, which could mean they no longer have the ability to work legally or be in this country legally.

Adonia Simpson: Absolutely. We’re hearing a lot of fear and uncertainty. On top of the fear and uncertainty a lot of people are experiencing just because of the Covid crisis. You have mid-status families, people that have DACA status, DACA maybe have children that are us citizens and there’s a lot of fear of what happens down the road, should the benefit be terminated. And we have DACA youth not only working in the healthcare industry, but in every aspect of our economy, including hundreds of DACA who couldn’t work in the food supply chain. So we have thousands and thousands of people that are working in that also critical area right now in the situation that we’re in.

Jaisal Noor: So Mike Pence, the vice president was asked about the situation with DACA recipients and he said the president wants to reach a solution with Congress on DACA. He said they are quite incredibly inspired by the way people are stepping up. And we know that Donald Trump wanted money for the border wall, which obviously will do nothing to fight Covid-19 in exchange for DACA and some other concessions from Democrats in the house, which they haven’t been willing to make. If you can address that in more broadly, we’ve been hearing, I mean obviously issues like family separation. We’ve been hearing about the conditions in prisons and detention centers. Some detainees are even going on a hunger strike to protest the conditions. Prison officials admit social distancing is not possible if you’re behind bars.

Adonia Simpson: There’s a lot of things to unpack there, so let’s first talk about DACA. Deferred action for childhood arrivals. That was an executive order. It wasn’t lie, it was an executive order by President Obama, which provided deferred action and the action that’s being deferred is deportation. And it differs that for people that need certain eligibility criteria. You can’t have certain criminal offenses, you have to have arrived before a certain age, you have to have studied here or been in the military. There’re certain requirements and it’s an executive order, which means that as advocates we were always concerned what would happen after Obama. As just as easily as Obama created the executive order, President Trump has now eliminated the program.
With that said, there’s nothing that prevents the executive, that prevents the President from rolling that decision back, particularly at this time. Ultimately, Congress needs to act. There are millions of people beyond the DACA recipients who have been here for decades, who pay taxes, who have families, who are amazing and vibrant contributors to our community that we need to find a solution. So yes, ultimately Congress needs to act, but there are some things that the administration can be doing to extend protections for this very vulnerable and important group of our society. So the second aspect of what you discussed is detention which is huge. There’s been a lot of push right now to release individuals. There’s thousands of people that are currently detained in immigration facilities across the country.
And it’s important to keep in mind that these individuals are often detained, immigration detention is civil, the proceedings are civil. This is not criminal confinement. It’s not supposed to be a punishment. And a big difference between criminal detention and immigration detention is oftentimes people don’t have a date, an end date. They don’t know how long they’ll be detained, they don’t know when their case will be resolved. And there’s thousands and thousands of individuals who have no criminal history whose sole violation is being here without status or overstaying their status. And that’s what’s led to them to being detainees in the facilities. And as you were mentioning, advocates have a lot of concerns about the conditions. We’ve heard reports from ICE about increasing numbers of staff who’ve tested positive. Increasing numbers of detainees, individuals who are detained in these facilities testing positive and in this time where we’re supposed to be social distancing, detention facilities are the exact opposite. It’s irresponsible.

Jaisal Noor: And you mentioned how even undocumented immigrants, they’re paying taxes, but we know they’re not getting a stimulus check, some of the people that need it the most. And I wanted you to comment on that. And also it’s the same Trump Administration that’s wanting to get people back to work at the same time is not taking these steps that could help enhance the country’s response to allow people to get back to work. There’s just a huge, cruel irony there.

Adonia Simpson: There is. Absolutely. And I’m so glad you brought up the stimulus package. I heard recently from an advocate that the virus doesn’t discriminate. The virus doesn’t pick people based on their immigration status. However, a lot of the stimulus packages and what we’ve seen so far has left out a huge number of people and a huge number of some of the most vulnerable immigrants. And it’s not just people that don’t have social security numbers that aren’t eligible for the stimulus package for example. The way that it’s structured right now, let’s say for example, there’s a US citizen and they’re married to somebody who’s undocumented, but that undocumented person does have an ITIN, a tax identification number, and they have two US citizen children, the spouse with the ITIN is participating in paying taxes. The whole family is paying taxes. The way that the packages is right now, the whole family would be eliminated from receiving any benefits.
So not just the individual who’s undocumented, but the two US citizen children. They wouldn’t be eligible for that $500 and the US citizen adult would not be eligible for or the amount for adults. And that’s creating a huge issue. I read something recently that I think they said 5.1 million US citizen children and children with a social security numbers are potentially going to be barred from receiving this very important and critical relief in this time.

Jaisal Noor: And finally, this is an election year and voters are going to have an opportunity to cast a ballot and choose a candidate in November. And if they haven’t voted in the primary yet, probably mail in a ballot for the primary election. And we know that, especially in Nevada, we saw huge numbers of Latino voters come out for Bernie Sanders. He’s no longer really in this race. He stopped his campaign, although he’s still on the ballot. So still trying to get votes on the ballot. But now that the two leading contenders are Joe Biden and Donald Trump. What do people need to know about their immigration platforms? We know we’ve talked about Trump’s record, but Joe Biden also has a record where he’s connected with the Obama Administration. You know, Obama Administration did have policies like DACA, but on the other hand, the Obama Administration deported millions of people during that tenure. For people that are concerned about immigrant families, what should they know right now?

Adonia Simpson: I think this is a great question and there’s so many things that can happen. Unlike a lot of areas and issues in our country when it comes to immigration, the executive does wield so much power. Everything that we’ve seen the last few years, all the changes we haven’t seen a true change in law. We haven’t seen Congress pass any sort of immigration, any changes to immigration. There’s just so much room for the executive to work in the various agencies to change policies, promulgate new rules. So we’ve seen a lot of things that have been horribly devastating to immigrant communities in the last few years. We’ve seen things like the Public Charge Rule, which has created mass panic in the community and also relates back to this issue that we have now with Covid. The Public Charge Rule has made so many immigrants afraid to seek benefits. And many of these immigrants are eligible for benefits and they’re un-enrolling their children who are eligible for benefits because there’s a fear that they might be deported.
There’s so much that can be done by the executive. And I think whoever is the president after the elections in November, there’s a lot of things that can still be done. There’s if we have, if Biden potentially moves forward, there’s going to be a lot of work as far as unwinding a lot of the policies, a lot of the devastating policies we’ve seen in the last couple of years. Should we have president Trump for another four years there’s a lot of other action items we anticipate that could be taken to even limit lawful immigration more and have even additional devastating effects on the community.

Jaisal Noor: And we know that asylum seekers are being especially hard hit at this time.

Adonia Simpson: Yeah. What’s difficult about asylum is provisions of asylum are part of international law. And there’s this right to seek refuge if you’re fleeing persecution and what’s happening at the border is horrible.
Many individuals aren’t having an opportunity to really have a fair day in court to have an opportunity to present their case. The migration protocols, the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy for example, not only makes it more difficult for people to appear in court and be safe. However, it’s also limiting their access to counsel and the ability to work with an attorney who studies have shown over and over that having an attorney represent you on your immigration case can really sometimes increase the chances of the likelihood of success by seven times.

Jaisal Noor: Well, Adonia Simpson, director of the Family Defense Program at Americans for Immigrant Justice. Thank so much for speaking with us and giving us this important update on the situation in the US right now.

Adonia Simpson: Thank you for having me and thank you for covering this.

Jaisal Noor: And thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.

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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.