Dispatches From New York During the Pandemic

Dispatches From New York During the Pandemic

April 20, 2020

New York State experienced an increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases (to 242,786) over the last week, but a drop in hospitalizations. On April 19, it also experienced its lowest number of deaths (478) in seven weeks, although still an extraordinarily high number.  Overall, 14,347 persons have died in New York from COVID-19.  On April 20 (12:30 p.m.), New York City reported 132,467 COVID-19 cases, with 34,729 persons hospitalized.  To date, the City has suffered 9,101 confirmed deaths from COVID-19, and an additional 4,582 “probable” deaths from the virus.  The City provides extensive data on COVID-19 cases, including by borough, age, sex, and zip code.

New York City has consistently treated immigrants of all statuses as full residents, entitled to City services and benefits.  To that end, the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) has publicly affirmed that: “Many city services are available to all New Yorkers,” no matter their immigration status or income. MOIA has also created a list of resources for immigrant communities during the pandemic, which covers diverse needs such as health care, food assistance, public safety, and support to small businesses.

The Benefits and Limits of Remote Consultation and Representation

Thomas Shea is a Senior Staff Attorney with CUNY Citizenship Now!, an agency that “provides free, high quality, and confidential immigration law services to help individuals and families on their path to U.S. citizenship.”  In normal times, CUNY Citizenship Now! operates from six full-time centers and 30 part-time locations.  Tom also serves as the Editor of CMS’s weekly Migration Update.

He explains that his agency’s immigration office – which will not provide in-person services until at least May 15 – now provides legal consultations by phone. It assists people with simpler form completion, such as Form I-90 (application to renew an expiring ten-year green card or replace a lost ten-year green card); Form N 400 (application for naturalization), and renewal applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).  Its services now depend on the capacity of the “participants” in its services to print forms and supporting documents at home. If immigrants do not have that capacity, they need to wait until the agency reopens its in-person services. Because of the complexity of certain applications – e.g., adjustment of status and consular processing – the immigration office does not provide form assistance remotely.

Before suspending in-person services, many people expected their applications to be completed from scratch in just one meeting. Now participants, for the most part, understand that their cases will proceed more slowly.  Many immigrants now need assistance with computer and printing issues at home. Non-English speakers often rely on English-speaking family members for help them in assembling the final packet for US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Some participants might have to wait to proceed with their cases because they need to obtain supporting documents, such as a Certificate of Disposition (a court document which explains what happened in a criminal case), or the documents needed to overcome the public charge rule, which they cannot access during the closures.

Remote legal consultations can, in some circumstances, lead to the provision of legal services for more straightforward applications. Generally, consultations take the form of conversations that help to put the participant at ease and answer their questions. If the legal consultation proceeds to legal services, the office may have multiple conversations over the phone to gather information and determine eligibility for an immigration benefit, but with the recognition that the application packet can be finalized only when the office resumes its in-person services. It has proven possible during this difficult time to provide immigration legal advice (confidentially and effectively) over the telephone and to gather (via phone and email) information for completing application packets. However, this process is more time-consuming than an in-person meeting.  Moreover, some immigrants do not feel comfortable sharing their confidential/private information remotely with a stranger. In those situations, they prefer to wait to meet in person – whenever that might be  – before continuing with their cases.

Immigrants and Health Care

Last week, CMS reached out to a nurse and an emergency room doctor living in the Washington, DC area, with a few questions on immigrants and the pandemic. COVID-19 deaths in Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia more than doubled over the last week – to nearly 1,000.  The virus has infected African American at disproportionately high rates, with Prince George’s County in Maryland a designated “hot-spot.”  Elected leaders in all three jurisdiction – Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia – have underscored racial disparities in infection rates and deaths.

The two health professionals worried about immigrants not coming forward during this crisis for fear of losing the possibility of status. They spoke of the danger “to all” when immigrants were not screened or tested, and lacked access to the health care system until they were in critical condition and arrived at an emergency room.

“With greater availability of test kits for the virus,” one said, “the standard will be for all those with symptoms to be tested in order to identify those people needing to be quarantined properly and for the appropriate amount of time.”  He continued:

If symptomatic people are not tested … due to fear of risking their immigration cases, they will not effectively quarantine themselves, which will result in passing on the coronavirus to many others, which significantly raises the health risk of the entire community. Widespread screening of everyone including immigrants is the only way all communities will be able to limit the spread and allow businesses to reopen. Any segment of the population left out of widespread testing once available ensures the continued spread of the coronavirus in the community.

They also highlighted the role of the “many immigrants we depend on as caregivers.” One of their elderly mothers, for example, had been receiving “24/7” care in her retirement community. No one but staff can enter her retirement home, and its “mostly immigrant staff” – its “food service, maintenance, health aids” – are on “the front lines and cannot work from home.”  Many of these aids are hourly employees and likely lack health insurance themselves.

When asked about the risks posed by immigrant detention centers and prisons, one replied:

Any environment such as a detention center that places people in close quarters without social distancing results in the spread of the coronavirus, which will cause a significant percentage of them to become seriously ill, with some dying.  Further, any segment of the population including those in detention centers that does not maintain social distancing places the entire community beyond the detainees themselves at risk of contracting the coronavirus.

The pandemic exploits and exacerbates conditions of social inequality and exclusion, and only a fully inclusive response to it can stem its spread and mitigate its ultimate impact.

April 13, 2020

Over the last week, the number of COVID-19 cases in New York State rose from nearly 131,000 to 195,261 and deaths increased from 4,758 to 10,060, with New York City suffering roughly nearly 6,900 deaths. The virus has particularly punished poor and non-white residents of the City (and elsewhere), as illustrated by the city health department’s online map of COVID-19 test rates by zip code, race, and poverty.  As of April 13, Nassau (846), Wayne (704), Westchester (511), Cook (485), Bergen (453) and Essex (428) counties had also experienced high numbers of deaths. New Jersey was the second hardest hit state, with 64,584 cases and 2,443 deaths by the afternoon of April 13.  Among the tragic losses in New York City, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio announced the deaths of two pastors – both immigrants – in the Diocese of Brooklyn – Fr. Jorge Ortiz-Garay and Fr. Gioacchino Basile – and three deacons, Deacon Emilio Arteago, Deacon Jaime Pinzon, and Deacon Perfecto Santana.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio reported on “war-like conditions” in city hospitals and the need for as many as 45,000 additional “clinical personnel” by the end of April.  He called for a “national system to enlist” medical personnel to the front lines of the crisis.  Several analysts have highlighted the need to authorize, facilitate and extend the work of foreign health-care professionals, including those who have  graduated from foreign medical schools, who cannot practice in the United States, or who seek admission to the country.  New Jersey and New York have announced, for example, that they will issue temporary medical licenses to foreign doctors in good standing elsewhere.  As New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy explained earlier this month, such professionals are needed “to expand bed capacities, reopen closed hospitals, and erect field medical stations to prepare for additional COVID-19 cases.”

Carmen Maquilon directs the Catholic Charities Immigrant Services program in the Diocese of Rockville Centre. She reports that since March 16, the program’s immigration attorneys and accredited representatives have all been available remotely to the immigrant community in Long Island, “providing legal services as much as possible,” including consultations, legal screenings for unaccompanied minors, and legal orientation for custodians of unaccompanied minors.

The program’s accredited representatives continue to reach out to DACA beneficiaries to ensure that they are renewing their cases. Staff have also prioritized educating clients and stakeholders on the public charge rule, as it applies to services for COVID-19 and otherwise.

Ms. Maquilon reports that the program’s staff have, by necessity, “become quasi social workers/case managers, advising clients about COVID-19 symptoms, [and] making sure that the many unaccompanied minors that we represent do not fall through the cracks in our educational system.”  It has also advocated that local school districts provide each child with Chromebooks or tablets.  Most children in poor school districts, she reports, “are not receiving any equipment,” leaving them behind “yet again.”

Finally, case managers are using Zoom, WhatsApp and other media to assist unaccompanied minors, asylees, and refugees with cultural orientation and, especially, on how to protect themselves from infection. More than 50 percent of the program’s clients live in the areas most affected by the virus (Brentwood and Hempstead).  A high percentage is staying at home (not working), which has resulted in additional hardship. Many lack transportation and are afraid to venture outside. The office has been delivering food to these families and leaving the packages on their front doors.

The program seeks to live up to the Holy Father’s Easter Sunday “Urbi et Orbi” blessing.  “Before the many sufferings of our time,” Pope Francis said, “may the Lord of life not find us cold and indifferent.  May he make us builders of bridges, not walls.”

April 6, 2020

Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, the state now at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, has warned the nation that the crisis besieging New York City is “your future.” On April 6, Governor Cuomo reported that there were 130,689 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state and 4,758 persons had died, including 2,474 in New York City.

New York City is also proudly a city of immigrants.  A February 2020 report by the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity found that immigrants “comprise 37.2 percent of the city’s population but 44.2 percent of the labor force,” and undocumented immigrants participate at a disproportionately high rate (77.5 percent) in the labor force, compared to less than 65 percent of the US-born population.

As the pandemic rages in New York, the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) will provide weekly dispatches from New York City on immigrants and those working with them.  The first dispatch is based on short reports from David A. Colodny, Director of Legal Services and Sr. Vice President, Catholic Migration Services of Brooklyn, and from Daniela Alulema, CMS’s Director of Programs.

Catholic Migration Services

Mr. Colodny reports that Catholic Migration Services is open, with staff working remotely and providing most of the agency’s services over the phone. It is continuing to represent clients with open cases, as best it can, given US Citizenship and Immigration Services office closures and immigration court restrictions and closures. Its naturalization program uses Citizenshipworks to work with clients remotely. However, its work has been challenging in areas other than citizenship. Its housing and workers’ rights teams are also working remotely and providing advice to tenants and workers through hotlines. Fortunately, in New York State, there is a 90-day moratorium on eviction proceedings for all residential and commercial tenants. Staff are also assisting clients with court and agency proceedings to the extent that the courts and agencies are open.

Catholic Migration Services is finding that immigrants are prioritizing services differently than they did prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. It is getting fewer calls in general, and its clients’ primary concerns are health and income related. Many have lost jobs and worry about their ability to pay bills and rent. Its workers’ rights team is advising clients on their eligibility for unemployment insurance, paid leave and other benefits.

The program has developed a list of resources for people whose primary concerns are not legal; e.g., financial assistance, food pantries and other benefits. Overall, immigrant communities do not seem as focused now on seeking immigration legal assistance. They have pressing needs (health and economic), and the program is trying to adapt to their priorities.

Emergency Fund to Support Undocumented Youth and Families

On March 18, the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC), an undocumented youth-led organization that works to empower immigrant youth, launched an emergency fund to support undocumented youth and families whose livelihoods have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal relief checks or unemployment benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (with certain exceptions for immigrants with temporary protections). Within a few days, the NYSYLC raised $75,000 through individual contributions and began distributing the emergency funding to the first 30 families. The NYSYLC received 1,500 requests for assistance and continues to receive donations to assist undocumented families. Initiatives of this kind will be particularly important, given that many undocumented workers will be hit “first — and worst” by the economic devastation caused by the pandemic.

April 7, 2020