As Texas fights to keep illegal migrants out of its territory, other states are looking for ways to provide the undocumented with as many benefits as possible. Around 400 immigrants and their advocates marched to Washington’s state capitol building in Olympia to demand unemployment and health benefits causing some confusion since employers can get into trouble for violating federal laws stating employees must show proof of citizenship.
Migrants Want More
“The people united, will never be divided,” chanted the crowd as they marched toward the steps of the Capitol in the Evergreen State. Led by the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network (WAISN), the largest in the state with a coalition of more than 400 immigrant and refugee rights organizations, the protesters demanded legislation to better support migrants. They urged lawmakers to make a separate unemployment benefits system just for them so that people, no matter their immigration status, can cash in on unemployment benefits.
“They’re not just luxuries,” said Adrianna Suluai, policy director of LGBTQ+ rights organization Utopia Washington. “These are the care and safety nets that our communities need to thrive.”
Currently, Washington does not provide unemployment insurance to those here without legal residency documentation that gives them the right to work legally in the US. However, two Democrat-sponsored bills in the state legislature would create a separate “wage replacement” system for illegals. “While the bill has not moved forward, we will not stop,” said state Senator Rebecca Saldaña at the February 7 rally.
“We’re more than just a job permit. We also need health care. We also need a social safety net,” argued Catalina Velasquez, WAISN’s rally organizer. She continued:
“For every other workplace protection, people have the same rights no matter what their immigration status.
“You have the right to get paid minimum wage, the right to not be retaliated against. So there’s no reason why unemployment and our safety net should be any different.”
But what about employers? Julia Gorton from the Washington Hospitality Association testified on January 13 that if employers hire undocumented migrants and report their information for unemployment benefits, it could cause them to be in violation of federal work authorization rules. “It puts employers in a difficult position,” she explained, “possibly putting them at risk of those federal penalties.”
Health Insurance for Immigrants
Washington has around 246,000 illegal migrants according to the Migration Policy Institute, and less than half of them have medical insurance. Starting July 1, though, the state plans to expand its Medicaid program, Apple Health, to cover about 8,000 more people, regardless of their immigration status. The Immigrant Solidarity Network is asking for more funding to include up to about 25,000 people.
California became the first state earlier this year to provide health care coverage for all undocumented people, setting a standard that other liberal states might soon follow.
That is, if the money doesn’t run out.
New York, Colorado, and the District of Columbia have already spent billions in unemployment benefits to migrants. The Empire State set aside $2.1 billion for their “excluded workers” but soon ran out of money. The DC program had $15 million set aside, but that incentive has lapsed as well.
Colorado, however, has a $600 million program for the unemployed illegals, and is currently still running, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. California, surprisingly, had a similar unemployment benefit program that was vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom because of its potentially high cost.
Health care and unemployment compensation weren’t the only things participants in the rally demanded, however. The Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network is also asking lawmakers to spend $25 million on housing, food, and even transgender rights.
On a final note, while trying to figure out where to house and how to financially support illegal migrants in the state, the Olympia City Council signed a proclamation naming February 7 as Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Day.
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