Virus Package OKs Checks to Spouses of Illegals, Some Unemployed Alien Workers, and Medicaid for Some Pacific Islanders in the States

Also, an H-2B increase and a cut in funding for ICE

By David North on December 22, 2020

Among the immigration-related elements in the new, nearly one-trillion-dollar stimulus package passed by Congress are the following:

  • While illegal aliens themselves will not receive stimulus checks, the citizen (and presumably green-card) spouses of illegal aliens will be able to collect $600 checks, as will citizen children in families with an illegal alien present;
  • permanent nonimmigrants from the Central Pacific islands will have blanket coverage for Medicaid restored to them, after a gap of 24 years; and
  • one specific class of temporary alien workers, the CW-1 visa holders who work only in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), just north of Guam, will be eligible for virus-related unemployment insurance, according to an article in the local daily newspaper, the Marianas Variety.

Numbers USA reports on other immigration provisions in the bill, including an H-2B increase like those passed in recent years and a cut in funding for ICE; the bill does not include any version of legislation passed separately by the House and Senate to lift the per-country caps on employment-based immigration. 

The CNMI provision is an outrage. No other group of temporary alien workers in the nation is covered by these benefits, and the goodies will be distributed to workers in a territory that does not even have the usual employer-funded unemployment insurance program. The benefits will be paid totally by U.S. taxpayers, or more specifically, Mainland U.S. taxpayers.

The benefit rate, of up to apparently $645 a week, is a small fortune in these islands, and is far more than weekly wages paid to employed CW-1 workers.

That the voteless CNMI delegate, Kilili Sablan, who sits with the Democratic caucus in the House, was able to arrange these payments can be attributed to his own skills, and to the messy process by which the relief program was pasted together. The full text of the bill is said to be two feet thick, and consists of more than 1,000 pages.

One can make plausible arguments for the first and second of these provisions, but not the third.

The arrangement for mixed families nominally brings benefits to U.S. citizens. As to the second group they are disadvantaged, low-income legal, permanent residents of the U.S. The third group consists of temporary alien workers, no different from the H-1Bs and other temporary U.S. alien workers. Why should the CW-1s be singled out for this treatment?

It is not immediately clear if the nonimmigrant islanders, from the Central Pacific nations, a totally different population from the CW-1s, will also get the stimulus checks. As of today, the bill had passed both houses and was waiting to be signed by the president.

According to an article in The Hill:

The bill will allow U.S. citizens who are in households that also include non-citizens to receive the payments. With the first round of payments, U.S. citizens married to people who do not have work-eligible Social Security numbers generally could not receive a payment if the couple filed a joint return.

While these funds will, formally, go to the citizens in these mixed families, these moneys inevitably will be shared with the illegal aliens in those families, and this will be another example of Congress voting (perhaps unwittingly) to encourage illegal aliens to stay in the country, as it has done so often in the past.

The Central Pacific Islanders. Most nonimmigrants (other than women giving birth) are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare, but about 35 years ago an exception was created for people from the central Pacific semi-nations of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau, all once governed by the U.S. People from those islands have a life-long right to come to the U.S. and to work in this country and do so as nonimmigrants; it is a unique class in the migration field.

For a dozen years or so we provided Medicaid to the people from these islands (once Japanese colonies) who had come to the U.S., including to Guam and to the CNMI. Then during the Medicaid reforms of the Clinton years they were dropped from coverage; according to some this was a simply a clerical error. The restoration of Medicaid is an element of the new compromise legislation.

The irony is that while Covid-19 has not been much of a problem in the islands, those who have come to the U.S. are suffering from the virus at higher than normal rates; this is a fundamentally Third World population with high birth rates, and substantially higher incidences of obesity and diabetes than their neighbors. As a consequence of the last two factors, and low incomes, they are more likely to be impacted by the virus than the general population.

The islander's plight is described, at much length, in a Politico article that recently appeared. Its headline is hard-breathing:

Irradiated, Cheated and Now Infected: America's Marshall Islanders Confront a Covid-19 Disaster

The loss of Medicaid impacted people from all three mid-Pacific states, not just the Marshalls; the experiments with the atom bombs took place on only a couple of the islands (notably Bikini) in the Marshalls, and not in the other two jurisdictions. And the number of Marshallese who were near the bombed islands then, and have since survived and moved to the Mainland, is minimal.

It is now estimated that there are some 38,000 of the islanders in Hawaii, Guam, CNMI, and American Samoa, plus tens of thousands of others on the Mainland.

I remember a conversation I had about this population while waiting for an elevator in one of the Senate office buildings during the 1980s; also waiting was the then-chair of the U.S. Senate Immigration Subcommittee, Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.). Referring to the then (considerably smaller) population of islanders, he said "there are so few of them we decided to let them all in, it was simpler that way."

I have totally forgotten the context of the conversation. The senator was a highly responsible legislator, known for the care with which he approached immigration policy.