News & Views

Advocacy in the Time of COVID-19

Governments at all levels face a tsunami of need. All of us know that xenophobia skyrockets when illnesses spread. If at all possible, call your Congress persons and state representatives, everyday, and make sure to tell them that immigrants should not be left out of response strategies. Everyone should have access to the health care, income, housing and nutritional assistance they need—no questions asked.

More specifically, below is a list of eight things you can do. Choose one a day or several. When the list is complete, make your calls and write your letters again!

  1. The Senate is now considering H.R. 6201, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Call your Senators often and tell them to pass this critical bills which provides, among other things, emergency food access, paid sick days and emergency paid leave benefits. The full text of the act is available here.
  1. Ask your Senators and Representatives to ensure that all emergency benefits during the crisis are considered disaster relief. Otherwise, immigrants and refugees will be afraid to access much needed crisis benefits in fear of being deemed a public charge. In this time of crisis, no one should be forced to choose between food and housing or staying with their U.S. spouses or American children.
  1. Write a comment regarding the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) Proposed Rule on Fees. Details about the proposed rule are available as part of our Comment Writing Toolkit available here.
    1. This rule would propose to increase fees to file appeals more than 700 times what they currently pay. It is yet another blatant attempt to deprive low income immigrants of due process and plunge immigrants and their families deeper into poverty by denying them access to justice to stabilize their immigration status. The comment period is currently set to expire on March 30th and is only a 30 day comment period.
    2. The comment period should be at least 60 days according to past federal Executive Orders and standard practice. A letter can be written asking that the comment period be extended another thirty days so that this comment period is in line with current practice and federal law. Addresses for sending these letters and tips on how to write them can be found here.
    3. A comment in opposition to the substance of the rule should also be written and submitted. The rule provides no reasonable basis for such an extraordinary fee hike and violates fundamental notions of due process by rendering justice inaccessible to low income petitioners. Tips on how to write a comment and submit it are available in our comment writing toolkit here.
  1. Ask Senators and Representatives to shut down detention facilities immediately. These are prisons for immigrants. They don’t have adequate health care, they are often overcrowded and they expose immigrants and prison staff to the virus and prison staff then carry the virus back to their communities. There is no need to continue spending money on these facilities when money is desperately needed to help the numbers of persons who are out of work because of the virus. Ankle bracelet monitoring is and has been sufficient.
  1. Ask Senators and Representatives to continue funding immigrant and refugee legal and social services programs so that those programs can help ensure that vulnerable immigrants and refugees get what they need to remain self-sufficient and contributing to our economy. Now more than ever before, when our economy is in free fall, we need to ensure that everyone who can work is able to work.
  1. Ask your State Representatives to consider reinstating cash assistance for all Pennsylvanians. This meager cash supplement of $250 per month was recently taken away by our state legislators who felt that the most vulnerable among us should not receive safety net benefits even while the strongest companies continue to be able to get cash welfare in the form of tax subsidies. At a minimum, if the state legislature is not willing to reinstate cash benefits for poor people they should be turning to the businesses that they subsidized and asking for a return of some of that benefit to help the most vulnerable weather the economic storm caused by the virus.
  1. Ask your State Representatives to work with technology companies to bridge the digital divide with loaned laptops for as long as the crisis continues. While workplaces, universities and schools move to on-line and remote communication, low income community members have no ability to participate and find themselves suddenly isolated. Acting now to bridge this divide could have major positive ramifications for improving digital literacy and decreasing isolation far into the future.
  1. Join HIAS Pennsylvania’s mailing list at to keep updated about the impact of the virus on our clients and community and what you can do to ameliorate the situation.

For more advocacy information and resources, check out PA COVID-19 Resources.