GOP senators try to sneak anti-immigrant provisions into COVID relief bill at last second


Experts call the amendments 'poison pill' proposals intended to both target already struggling immigrant communities and derail the much-needed relief legislation.

Republican senators are attempting to introduce a number of anti-immigrant provisions into President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill at the last minute, in what experts say is an attempt to "derail" much-needed assistance.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), one of the Hill's most aggressive anti-immigrant hardliners, introduced three motions to commit as voting on the mammoth bill got underway on Friday, all of them squarely aimed at immigrants. If agreed to, the entire relief bill would be sent back to committee for consideration and debate.

One of Cotton's provisions would prohibit any state and local funding from going to sanctuary cities. Another would strip state and local funding unless contractors and public institutions agree to use the E-Verify system to ensure workers' legal status. And the third would prohibit health care for undocumented immigrants.

Cotton recently introduced a separate bill calling for the minimum wage to be raised to $10 — rather than the $15 most Democrats support — which also required employers use the E-Verify system to ensure that immigrant workers are not undocumented.

Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS) similarly introduced an amendment to the COVID relief bill that would require higher education funding to only go to those in the United States lawfully.

And Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) introduced an amendment that denies any stimulus payments to undocumented immigrants and their spouses, if they are married, as well as their children.

National advocacy group the Immigration Hub first flagged the anti-immigrant provisions on Friday.

The group's executive director, Sergio Gonzales, slammed the provisions in a statement, calling them "poison pills" and saying that they "villainize immigrants and attempt to exclude immigrant communities from relief efforts."

"Not only is it irresponsible to attempt to derail comprehensive relief after more than a year of the worst public health crisis in living memory, anti-immigration amendments aren’t what the country wants or needs," Gonzales continued. "...Republicans are headed right back down the road of Stephen Miller and Trump, dog whistling with unpopular proposals that only serve to harm some of our country's most vulnerable populations."

For the past year, Republican members of Congress have attempted repeatedly to target immigrants, who have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 crisis, under the guise of public health and national security.

Many of the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the country were impacted severely by the pandemic. Millions of restaurant workers were affected when the virus struck, forcing businesses to shutter their doors temporarily or for good. As the Pew Research Center noted in 2016, undocumented people make up at least 10% of that industry.

Some of those hit with job losses were also afraid of seeking assistance, worried that they might be deported.

In May 2020, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) introduced a bill requiring all detained undocumented immigrants to be deported in national emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic.

And in March, at the onset of the pandemic, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) Jordan cheered a Supreme Court decision that upheld Donald Trump's "Remain in Mexico" policy, which forced immigrants into inhumane conditions in tent communities across the border to await their asylum hearings.

"Now more than ever, we need to secure the Southern border," he tweeted.

For the moment, Biden is calling for Democratic senators to reject the "poison pills" that Republicans have proposed, which could slow passage of critically needed relief funds, CNN reported, which noted Democratic leaders were urging their caucus to "hold the line" against provisions that could fundamentally change the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told the outlet that he expects "a hardy debate and some late nights."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.