More Americans back giving undocumented immigrants medical care than economic aid amid coronavirus: Poll

There are nearly 10.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

May 20, 2020, 11:06 AM

More than two-thirds of Americans say the federal government has a responsibility to provide medical care to undocumented immigrants infected with coronavirus, almost double the proportion who believe it is incumbent on the government to give economic help to undocumented workers who’ve lost their job due to the pandemic, a new poll from Pew Research Center finds.

Nearly seven in 10 Americans said it's the federal government’s responsibility to provide medical care to undocumented immigrants, but less than four in 10 said it also should be providing them economic help if they’ve lost their jobs during the outbreak.

Over the last two months, more than 36 million Americans have filed unemployment claims, but that figure doesn’t include any undocumented immigrants, who are not legally eligible for unemployment benefits.

Despite experiencing the same economic toll as the rest of the country, undocumented immigrants – and even immigrants with tax identification cards – are not receiving the same federal aid as most Americans, such as the economic impact payment, which is up to $1,200 for an individual or $2,400 for a married couple, plus $500 for each child. The individual cash payments were part of the unprecedented $2 trillion federal economic relief package, known as the CARES Act, which passed in late March.

Undocumented immigrants, a population of nearly 10.5 million in the United States, not qualifying for unemployment has been exasperated by the crisis, with the government providing expanded and extended benefits due to the coronavirus. Before the coronavirus dramatically disrupted the U.S. economy, undocumented immigrants made up roughly 4.6% of the labor force, according to Pew.

But one state, California, which is home to about two million undocumented immigrants, began to offer relief funding to undocumented immigrants this week, after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a $125 million coronavirus disaster relief fund in April aimed at providing undocumented immigrants who aren't eligible for federal stimulus checks with payments for $500 to $1,000.

Guatemalan immigrant Zully arrives to a clinic for a COVID-19 test on May 8, 2020 in Greenwich, Connecticut.
John Moore/Getty Images

"California is the most diverse state in the nation. Our diversity makes us stronger and more resilient. Every Californian, including our undocumented neighbors and friends, should know that California is here to support them during this crisis," Newsom said in a statement last month. "We are all in this together."

In the new poll, attitudes about the government’s role in safeguarding the health and economic well-being of undocumented immigrants shows racial divisions.

Hispanics are most likely to back the federal government offering medical and economic aid to undocumented immigrants affected by the coronavirus outbreak, with an overwhelming majority (86%) saying the government is responsible for providing medical care, and nearly two-thirds (62%) saying the same about economic support.

Black Americans, too, by a strong margin (80%) believe the federal government should provide medical care and more than half (55%) say the government should provide economic help.

But a far lower share of white adults believe the government is responsible for giving medical care (61%) and economic help (27%) to undocumented immigrants.

As with most polling on the coronavirus, the new survey finds stark partisan divides on both of these issues as well.

In the latest Pew poll, a majority of Americans who identify as Democrats or lean Democratic in their political views think the federal government has a responsibility to provide both medical care and economic help to undocumented immigrants. There is greater support for giving medical care, though, with 85% of Democrats and Democratic-leaners supporting this, compared to 56% supporting the government helping financially.

For Americans who identify as Republicans or lean Republican politically, a minority feel that the onus is on the federal government to give medical care or economic aid to undocumented immigrants during the pandemic. Just under half, 47%, say it is the federal government’s job to provide medical care to undocumented immigrants, but only 14% said the same about economic help.

The HEROES Act, which passed the Democrat-controlled House Friday, would send another $1,200 in direct payments to Americans. House Republicans attempted, but failed to add a provision to this that would have prevented anyone without a social security number -- undocumented immigrants -- from collecting that payment.

“I do not think hardworking U.S. taxpayers should be paying for illegals. If you are an American citizen, you have a right to the -- to the payment if you meet the criteria. But in the time of crisis, I think with hardworking taxpayers we should focus on Americans,” Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, told reporters during a media availability Tuesday.

This bill is not expected to become law, as it’s been pegged a "liberal wishlist" and "dead on arrival" by Senate Republicans.

The new survey was conducted between April 29 and May 5 of 10,957 American adults.

ABC News' "Pandemic -- A Nation Divided" kicks off Wednesday with stories about how the coronavirus has heightened racial/ethnic and socioeconomic divides coast-to-coast. On ABC's "Nightline," co-anchor Juju Chang offers a glimpse into the pandemic's epicenter in the U.S. – the Bronx. As she walks neighborhood by neighborhood, Chang will connect the dots about public housing, close-quarter living, food deserts and underlying health hazards. She talks to New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York City bus driver who has lost co-workers to the virus and now works double shifts because thousands of his colleagues are out sick, and a young city council member raised in public housing. "Nightline" also meets a local Latino doctor working to expand testing.

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