The World Health Organization (WHO) received its first report on “cases of pneumonia of unknown etiology (unknown cause) detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China” at the end of December 2019. By January 3, 2020, China reported on 44 such cases. By January 8, the “novel coronavirus” had officially crossed international boundaries, with the first case detected in Thailand. By January 30, WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. By that point, the WHO had confirmed 7,818 cases in 18 countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the first US case on January 20 in the state of Washington. By May 15, the United States, a nation with four percent of the world’s population, had experienced 29 percent of the world’s deaths from COVID-19. By May 22, the virus had infected 5.2 million persons worldwide and killed 335,941.
This CMS webpage seeks to provide real-time updates and a record of migration-related developments and policies over the course of the crisis. COVID-19 and its disastrous economic fall-out have decimated migrant, refugee, and other vulnerable populations, and have led to an extraordinary proliferation of restrictions on mobility. The webpage approaches these issues from diverse perspectives.
The US Policy Developments section covers issues, such as the:
- Closure of US borders to asylum-seekers, unaccompanied migrant children, and “non-essential” travelers.
- Suspension of refugee resettlement and the issuance of visas based on family ties and employment.
- The newly implemented “public charge” rule, which serves as a disincentive to immigrants and their families to access public benefits and medical care.
- Federal stimulus and relief legislation that excludes and ignores the needs of undocumented immigrants and “mixed-status” families.
The State and Local Developments section – developed in collaboration with the University of Southern California’s Price School of Public Policy – reports on policy actions by states, counties and cities that have a specific impact on the foreign born and their families. Across the country, jurisdictions with sizable foreign-born populations are taking steps to provide emergency economic relief and access to health care to immigrants excluded from federal benefits.
Global Refugee Developments recounts the diverse contributions of refugees to the pandemic response, the suspension of resettlement, the challenges faced by refugees in camps and urban settings, where social distancing is impossible and health care inadequate; and, the attempt by some to return to dangerous conditions in their home countries.
The Policy Analysis and Research section offers:
- Original CMS research on US immigrant essential workers, by state and status.
- An extensive analysis (updated weekly) of US detention development during the pandemic, and the spread of COVID within and beyond the US detention system.
- Essays on Venezuelan migrants seeking to return home, migrants shelters in Mexico during the pandemic, and the impact of US migration-related COVID-19 policies on communities in Guatemala.
- An analysis of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and other legislation.
- Short “dispatches” from New York and other affected communities, struggling to fight the pandemic.
CMS’s Webinars cover US essential workers, inclusive local community responses to immigrants, the conditions facing immigrant communities in Louisiana and Mississippi, and immigrant detention in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama during the crisis. The page also includes links to CMS’s weekly digest on international migration issues, Migration Update. Many of the Update’s editions since March 2020 have been devoted exclusively to COVID-19 migration-related developments.
A few key themes emerge from this work. The virus does not honor borders, distinguish between people based on immigration status, or diminish the need for protection of refugees, children, families, or irregular migrants. Neither can efforts to stem the pandemic. Politically driven, nativist policies that seek to benefit one country over another will exacerbate an already calamitous situation. As two infectious disease experts told the New Yorker magazine: “‘A disease anywhere is a disease everywhere’” and “‘There’s no point just protecting your own turf.’” Globalized diseases require a coordinated global response, rooted in solidarity and facts. They also require nations to honor their domestic and international protection obligations. Mobility needs to be “secured” through sensible restrictions, but also through a commitment to the rule of law and to the protection of those who need to migrate. Migration must be managed, but in a way that “respects international human rights and refugee protection standards.”
Similarly, domestic policies that exclude or ignore select groups will exacerbate social inequalities and tensions at a time that demands a unified response. An effective response must embrace the entire community, particularly those most at risk. More than ever, nations and local communities should treat their vulnerable residents – including immigrants and refugees – as full participants in their communities, and not as disposable.
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) data indicates that there are approximately 281 million people living outside of their country of origin and they represent 3.6 percent of the global population. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that by mid-2020, the world’s population of forcibly displaced people and refugees surpassed 80 million. International migrants and the forcibly displaced have been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic due to border closures, travel restrictions, unemployment, and xenophobia, racism, and stigmatization. They have been among the world’s most vulnerable persons to the pandemic and its socio-economic consequences.
Immigrants in the United States, regardless of legal status, contribute significantly to the economy, to the social fabric of our nation, and to the nation’s response to the pandemic. They also are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and should receive support – as integral members of US communities – to protect and sustain themselves and their families. The following summary chronicles US policy developments that impact the well-being of immigrants during this crisis. It covers legal immigration, refugee policies, public assistance, enforcement, due process and immigration benefits, labor issues, and legislative developments. CMS will update this page regularly as the pandemic develops.
State and local governments have exercised unusual powers since the early days of the Coronavirus lockdowns, ordering businesses to open and close, the wearing of masks and much else. Amidst it all, renewed activism on immigration issues in some parts of the country has produced measures that offer emergency economic relief and access to health care for immigrants left out of federal programs, especially the undocumented. In other cases, governments have facilitated employment by immigrants considered “essential” from surgeons to farmworkers....
States across the country are tackling an equity issue in the tax code by breaking from federal eligibility standards for their state Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs). Specifically, states are taking it upon themselves to end the exclusion of taxpayers who file their taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). ITINs are personal tax processing numbers issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to individuals who are not eligible for a Social Security number. They are primarily issued to undocumented immigrants, although they are also issued to certain lawfully present immigrants. Millions of people pay taxes with ITINs every year. Together ITIN-filers paid $23.6 billion in taxes in 2015. In less than a year, five states have successfully passed legislation to end the exclusion of these tax filers from their EITCs....
This paper summarizes the presentations and discussions of a virtual stakeholder meeting on Refugee Resettlement in the United States which built on the foundation of the May 2019 workshop represented in this special issue. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and hosted by the Committee on Population (CPOP) of the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on Dec 1–2, 2020, the meeting convened migration researchers, representatives of US voluntary resettlement agencies, and other practitioners to consider the role of migration research in informing programs serving refugees and migrants during the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing an emphasis on bringing global learning to those on the ground working with refugees. The goal of CPOP’s work in this area has always been to build bridges between communities of research and practice and to create a dialogue for a shared agenda.
On March 24, 2020, a 31-year-old Mexican national in Bergen County Jail, New Jersey, became the first federal immigration detainee to test positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). By April 10, 2020, New Jersey had more confirmed COVID-19 cases among immigration detainees than any other state in the nation. This article examines the relationship between COVID-19 and processes of migrant detention and deportation through a case study of New Jersey — an early epicenter of the pandemic and part of the broader New York City metro area. Drawing on publicly available reports and in-depth interviews with wardens, immigration lawyers, advocates, and former detainees, we describe the initial COVID-19 response in four detention facilities in New Jersey. Our findings suggest that migrant detention and deportation present distinct challenges that undermine attempts to contain the spread of COVID-19. We provide testimonies from migrant detainees who speak to these challenges in unsettling personal terms. Our interviews highlight the insufficient actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to contain the spread of the pandemic and a troubling lack of due process in immigration court proceedings. Based on these findings, we argue that reducing the number of migrants detained in the United States is needed not only in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic but also as a preventative measure for future health crises. Reductions can be achieved, in part, by reforming federal immigration laws on “mandatory detention.”...
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted global human mobility dynamics. This IMR Dispatch examines the historical, bidirectional links between pandemics and mobility and provides an early analysis of how they unfolded during the first nine months of the COVID-19 emergency. Results show, first, that international travel restrictions to combat the spread of the coronavirus are not a panacea in and of themselves. Second, our analysis demonstrates that the pandemic, government responses, and resulting economic impacts can lead to the involuntary immobility of at-risk populations, such as aspiring asylum-seekers or survival migrants. In a similar fashion, stay-at-home measures have posed dire challenges for those workers who lack options to work from home, as well as for migrants living in precarious, crowded circumstances. Moreover, global economic contraction has increased involuntary immobility by reducing both people’s resources to move and the demand for labor. Third, we show that people’s attempts to protect themselves from the virus can result in shifting patterns of mobility, such as increases in cross-border return migration and urban-to-rural movements. Drawing on international guidance for measures to combat pandemics and relevant frameworks on mobility, we propose approaches to alleviate the burden of travel restrictions on migrants and people aspiring to move, while still addressing the need to contain the pandemic and lessen its repercussions....
This article provides detailed estimates of foreign-born (immigrant) workers in the United States who are employed in “essential critical infrastructure” sectors, as defined by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency of the US Department of Homeland Security. Building on earlier work by the Center for Migration Studies, the article offers exhaustive estimates on essential workers on a national level, by state, for large metropolitan statistical areas, and for smaller communities that heavily rely on immigrant labor. It also reports on these workers by job sector; immigration status; eligibility for tax rebates under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act); and other characteristics....
This report reviews US detention developments from March 1 to August 1, 2020, a period when COVID-19 established itself and spread through the sprawling US detention system and beyond it. The report – which CMS updated regularly during this period – documents ICE’s fatally flawed response to this crisis, paying particular attention to the role of the private corporations that largely operate this system. It explores how the pandemic exploited and exacerbated longstanding problems in this system, such as its privatization, prison-like facilities, correctional standards, lack of transparency, and perverse financial incentives....
This paper provides comprehensive estimates on immigrant (foreign-born) workers in the United States, employed in “essential critical infrastructure” categories, as defined by the US Department of Homeland Security. It finds that immigrants in the labor force and age 16 and over, work at disproportionate rates in “essential critical infrastructure” jobs. In particular, 69 percent of all immigrants in the labor force and 74 percent of undocumented workers are essential infrastructure workers, compared to 65 percent of the native-born labor force...
This paper provides estimates on “essential” immigrant workers in New York State. These workers play a central role in safeguarding and sustaining state residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, often at great risk to their health and that of their families. Based on estimates drawn from 2018 US Census data, the Center for Migration Studies (CMS) estimates that 1.8 million immigrants work in jobs in the “essential businesses” identified by New York State. These businesses fall into 10 categories that meet the health, infrastructure, manufacturing, service, food, safety, and other needs of state residents. The majority of the New York foreign-born essential workers – 1.04 million – are naturalized citizens, 458,400 are legal noncitizens (mostly lawful permanent residents or LPRs), and 342,100 are undocumented....
On April 22, 2020, President Donald Trump signed an executive order halting for 60 days the issuance of green cards to certain immigrants, arguing that foreign workers should not compete with US-citizen workers for jobs at a time of a public health crisis and economic downturn. Public officials and immigration advocates expressed strong opposition to the executive order, citing studies that show that immigrants overall contribute to the health of the US economy and complement, not compete with, US workers.
Recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program have long contributed to the US labor force, economy, and communities, and several are now on the front lines combating the outbreak of COVID-19 and working to prevent the spread of the virus and to support those affected by it. This post provides estimates of the numbers of DACA recipients working in essential industries.
On March 27, 2020, Congress passed and the President signed a $2.2 trillion supplemental appropriations measure, known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES, S. 3548), to provide needed assistance to a variety of sectors in the US economy, including hospitals, transportation hubs (including airlines), small businesses, families, and individuals. Immigrants, particularly the undocumented, were largely excluded from eligibility for aid in the package.
The coronavirus pandemic has challenged many commonly-held perceptions about the United States. We have learned we are not invincible, for one, and are not always the best prepared in responding to crises. We also have an inequitable health-care system, as we lack the medical resources to care for everyone and too many in our country remain without health-care coverage. The other inconvenient truth that the pandemic has revealed is the injustice of our immigration system; we depend upon the labor of immigrants but scapegoat them as the cause of our problems.
On July 14, 2021, the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) hosted a webinar and discussion on its report, The CRISIS Survey: The Catholic Church’s Work with Immigrants in the United States in a Period of Crisis.
Dominican University is unique among Catholic colleges for its commitment to immigrants. About 10 percent of the students at Dominican University are undocumented or have temporary legal status, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. This episode features an interview with Donna Carroll, president of Dominican University. She reflects on the challenges facing undocumented college students, including: lack of federal financial aid funding, the difficulty of career planning, and integrating into campus life. She also talks about the leadership of undocumented and “DACAmented” students and why the university adopted a Sanctuary Campus Covenant in 2017. Carroll describes the university’s efforts to support immigrant students during the “triple pandemics” of COVID-19, racism, and economic injustice — all of which have been exacerbated by restrictionist immigration policies.
Partnership Schools, a network of nine elementary and middle schools in urban areas of New York and Cleveland, is trying to stem the tide of Catholic school closings. Their network is taking a unique approach to funding, relying heavily on philanthropic support and keeping costs down, while maintaining high-quality education.
La Casita has shifted many of its regular services to remote platforms and sent food boxes to community members. Sr. Gabriela has also been instrumental in making COVID-19 testing available to immigrants at local parishes.
The mission of the Scalabrinian order is to accompany people on the move. In the COVID-19 era, it is harder than ever to live out that mission.
This panel examined trends in international migration and migration-related policies in the context of pandemics of disease, racism, and violence. It examined the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and related policies on migrants and refugees, drawing on a growing body of research on how pandemics affect marginalized communities. The intersection of the health pandemic and the pandemics of racism and violence also disproportionately affect persons of color, including migrants and refugees. This panel lifted up promising international, national, and local approaches to the immense challenges facing immigrants, refugees, and their communities of origin and destination. Panelists also discussed the role of immigrants and refugees in economic and social recovery.
Donald G. Herzberg Professor Emeritus School of Foreign Service
Former Assistant Secretary
Population, Refugees and Migration
U.S. State Department
US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Office of Refugee Resettlement
Professor of the Practice and Director
Center for Humanitarian Health
Johns Hopkins University
Former Research Director
Center for Migration Studies
UN Population Division
University of California, Davis
Established in 2014, the Fr. Lydio F. Tomasi, C.S. Annual Lecture on International Migration addresses a migration-related topic of pressing concern to faith communities. Fr. Tomasi, a founding member of the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS), directed the institute from 1968 to 2001. Co-sponsored with the University of Notre Dame, the 2020 Fr. Lydio F. Tomasi, C.S. Annual Lecture on International Migration was delivered by His Eminence Cardinal Michael F. Czerny, SJ, Under-Secretary for the Migrants & Refugees Section of the Vatican Dicastery for Human Development.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the extreme vulnerabilities of poor and marginalized people, including immigrants and refugees. The webinar will feature immigrant community leaders and service providers who will discuss the economic, educational, health, and safety consequences of the pandemic for vulnerable immigrants and newly resettled refugees in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Central Mississippi.
Venezuelan returnees are turning around and new migrants are joining them to walk to Colombia and other receiving countries in the subregion. The direction of the migration flow is changing, and it seems unstoppable. Meanwhile, the number of returnees entering Venezuelan legal checkpoints seems to be decreasing. Since last September, groups of youths, women, children, and entire families are daily walking back to Colombia using informal border paths.
More than 4,000 Venezuelan citizens, stranded in 10 countries, have demanded repatriation flights to Venezuela, according to news reports. For more than three months, Venezuelans living in vulnerable situations during the pandemic have been waiting for flights in Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Spain, Panamá, and the United States. Joselin Ferrer, a 41 years old lawyer, is one of the few Venezuelans who has been able to return to her country.
The northern border of Mexico is a space of reception and containment for migrant families and individuals, who find themselves in conditions of great precariousness and practically null resources. Few migrants have material resources or social connections in Tijuana. The Casa del Migrante offers support to those waiting to cross the border. This wait can be prolonged indefinitely due to asylum and border control policies, a reality exacerbated by COVID-19 and related policies.
Thousands of Venezuelan migrants in South America face a Hobson’s choice, remain in their host countries in conditions of extreme vulnerability and mandatory quarantines, or return to Venezuela, despite the risks of contagion from the virus, the closure of borders, and Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.
The US response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been to fortify migration polices that violate the human rights of migrants. Beyond suspending hearings for asylum-seekers subject to the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), the US government has ordered the rapid repatriation of apprehended migrants, including asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors, has continued deportation proceedings and removals, and has suspended many legal migration processes. On April 10, the administration asserted its right, resulting from the “profound and unique public health risks posed by the novel (new) coronavirus” to impose visa sanctions on countries that deny or delay “the acceptance of aliens who are citizens, subjects, nationals or residents of that country” that impede the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) response to the pandemic. Expulsions, removals, and denial of access to asylum have become central to the US pandemic response, without the US offering evidence connecting the spread of the virus to persons arriving at US land borders. The situation unfolding in Guatemala is particularly illustrative....
If COVID-19 attacks places like Tijuana with vigor, we are in for a catastrophe. In the meantime, many border shelters have made some difficult decisions.
New York City is at the center of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also proudly a city of immigrants. Here’s how immigrants and those working with them are responding.
The CMS Migration Update is a weekly digest of news, faith reflections, and analysis of international migration and refugee protection. It also provides migration policy and research updates, with the Policy Update section available in Spanish. Several updates have focused heavily on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on migrants:
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many immigrants have been heavily affected by restrictions on health care access, job loss, and serving on the front lines to this crisis. Immigrant communities and those who work with them continue to offer vital services and to advocate for rights-respecting policies. The following is a list of COVID-19 resource guides from trusted organizations that have made positive contributions to immigrant communities and those that serve them: