Opinion | Federal action is essential to aid Michigan's immigrant communities

Simon Marshall-Shah

Simon Marshall-Shah is a state policy fellow with the Michigan League for Public Policy

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that we are interconnected: the health and prosperity of each of us depends on the health and prosperity of all of us. And our legislators’ solutions must reflect this reality. 

Michigan’s front-line workers are risking their own health and that of their families to continue providing services to all of us, including those who are able to stay home during quarantine. Plus, Michigan immigrants are disproportionately represented in a number of front-line occupations in health care, agriculture and production. 

The federal COVID-related legislation passed so far has done much to sustain families, businesses and local economies over the past few months. But there is no doubt that additional relief is needed to further support workers and families, including immigrants, here in Michigan and across the country. 

Comparing and contrasting the U.S. House of Representatives’ Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act) passed nearly three months ago with the U.S. Senate Republicans’ own plan, the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protections & Schools Act (the HEALS Act), Congress still has a ways to go with these needs in mind.

The COVID-19 relief packages passed by Congress so far deny economic supports to thousands of immigrant families here in Michigan and millions more nationwide. Tens of thousands of Michiganders, including essential workers, were left out of the $1,200 economic stimulus payments because they filed their taxes using an Individual Taxation Identification Number (ITIN) as opposed to a Social Security Number. Many ITIN filers are undocumented immigrants, and the restriction also extends to ITIN filers’ citizen spouses and children, meaning some immigrant families are losing out on thousands of dollars of relief during this crisis. 

The HEROES Act would right this wrong by providing economic relief (including what would be owed retroactively) to approximately 69,000 children and adults in Michigan households that filed taxes with an ITIN. The direct economic impact of this inclusion of ITIN households would be approximately $140 million. This means recipients of these funds can use this money to pay rent, buy groceries, and support their local businesses, all of which strengthen the Michigan economy.

Plus, while the HEROES Act is full of strong and necessary proposals, the U.S. Senate now has the ability to strengthen it even further. One such proposal would create a $10 billion emergency fund—modeled on a similar fund during the Great Recession—to establish Coronavirus Emergency Assistance Grants. These grants would allow states to provide basic income assistance, emergency aid and subsidized employment to families and individuals facing extreme hardship due to today’s health and economic crises. These funds would be available for immigrants regardless of their documentation status, in addition to other groups that have been made particularly vulnerable due to COVID-19. 

The Senate has the opportunity to remove barriers to adequate health care and nutrition while bolstering economic support for the hardest hit, including communities of color and immigrant families. Unfortunately, the HEALS Act barely puts a Band-Aid on the issues that families are facing, and comes nowhere near healing the wound. 

First, the HEALS Act does not include payments for ITIN filers, deliberately leaving those 69,000 Michigan families out of relief for a fourth straight time and cutting millions of dollars out of circulation in our economy. Second, HEALS provides no guarantees for free coronavirus testing and treatment, regardless of immigration status, leaving the door open for potential price gouging for lifesaving healthcare services that U.S.-born residents and immigrants alike will continue to seek. In addition, instead of securing immigrants’ safety and futures in this country (through the HEROES Act’s automatic extensions of temporary immigration status or work authorization), the HEALS Act includes over $1.5 billion in funding for Customs and Border Protection. 

Without a federal relief bill that includes the necessary health and economic stimulus funding to support U.S.-born and immigrant families alike, their struggles will only worsen, harming our communities and economy. In Michigan, Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters know how necessary the HEROES Act’s inclusive policies are to protecting the health and well-being of all Michigan families, and we must continue to call on them to ensure key provisions in the HEROES Act remain on the negotiating table in the Senate.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission.

If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Monica WilliamsClick here for details and submission guidelines.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Sun, 08/16/2020 - 10:35am

What is the national debt? How fast, say, per day, does it go up? How much does each American owe? What is the interest on the debt and how much taxes must be paid to service this debt?
These are questions that should also be addressed when discussing even more government spending.
If we would better control immigration we might be able to get our economic house in order. We don’t need more taxation—the rich can afford to get around this anyway by moving their money into tax shelters or even out of the country—we need less spending. I understand the plea. Can you understand mine? People work for themselves, their families, to get ahead. That is hard enough. But they are continually told they have to carry even more people than they already do.

No. If you want prosperity, understand it will come largely when the government doesn’t help us so much.

Kevin Grand
Sun, 08/16/2020 - 10:28pm

The answers to your questions are literally one click away.


And I wouldn't waste your time asking Mr. Shaw to look at things from a Taxpayer's perspective. The MLPP is a cultural/social marxist organization.

They even say so right on their own website.


Kevin Grand
Sun, 08/16/2020 - 10:35am

If there was any doubt why the federal government WILL NOT be bailing out failed states (i.e. Illinois, California & New York), it is ridiculous suggestions such as those above which are deal killers.

"Many ITIN filers are undocumented immigrants, and the restriction also extends to ITIN filers’ citizen spouses and children, meaning some immigrant families are losing out on thousands of dollars of relief during this crisis.


These funds would be available for immigrants regardless of their documentation status, in addition to other groups that have been made particularly vulnerable due to COVID-19. "

Look, Mr. Shah, AMERICAN TAXPAYERS don't want the federal government to be giving money to illegal aliens.

It is that simple.

Tue, 08/18/2020 - 11:13am

You certainly seem comfortable speaking on behalf of millions of people you don't know. What about the millions of AMERICAN TAXPAYERS who are also illegal aliens?

This argument reminds me of the people who insist on "abstinence only" sex education despite the mountains of evidence showing its ineffectiveness. Teenagers are awash in hormones and make bad choices, regardless of how many twisted fairy tales you tell them in Sunday School. Teenagers will always have sex. The question is how we prepare for that inevitability.

Likewise, humans aren't going to stop improving their lives, and people who live in poor countries aren't going to stop emigrating to richer countries, regardless of how many billions of AMERICAN TAXPAYER dollars are wasted on ineffective border walls or how cruelly ICE treats families. We will always have people living here illegally. The question is how we prepare for that inevitability.

Denying benefits to people based on immigration status only serves to bolster and accelerate the spread of the virus. It's in everyone's best interests, including yours, AMERICAN TAXPAYER, to make sure that all residents have access to health care.

middle of the mit
Tue, 08/18/2020 - 7:24pm


Failed States like California, New York and Illinois? You do realize they have the most economic impact on the entire country, don't you? Where would Kansas be if it didn't try the Brownback experiment? In better position than they are now. Where is Arkansas in your estimation, of successful States? Where is Kentucky or Alabama or Idaho?

Maybe we should just put a FEE (not a tax) on those businesses that use the illegal labor. Of course.......I would just put them in jail for employing people who weren't legal to work in the USA. But for those that are legal to work? Fee the heck out of those businesses. Why not? Because it will bring up their cost of doing business and they will pass that cost on to you?

So you are for legal and illegal workers who aren't American?

Are you for free trade?

Ever hear of a catch-22?

That is what you conservatives have backed yourselves into on this subject. I look forward to how you twist and contort your way out.

Sun, 08/23/2020 - 11:21am

is middle of the mit something like "sitting on the fence" ???

Sun, 08/23/2020 - 11:16am

the article about everyone receiving monies even those that have no right to be in this country is ludicrous.....can you name any other country that pays people to be in their country that are illegally there....maybe we can just have those bleeding heart liberals that like to spend other peoples money donate THEIR money for these people.....