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Valley immigrants fear seeking COVID-19 testing and treatment services

Posted at 7:17 PM, Mar 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-19 00:24:57-04

Questions arise among the immigrant community in Arizona as to whether they should seek testing and treatment for COVID-19 under recent immigration policies.

"What if I get sick, can I go and take part of those benefits the government might give?”

Ezequiel Hernandez, an immigration attorney in Phoenix says the immigrant community is concerned about asking for government-funded health services now with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The most affected are the most vulnerable, older individuals over 60, individuals getting charged as a Public Charge with regards to the law and the most vulnerable to coronavirus,” said Hernandez.

In February, the Department of Homeland Security announced a person could be denied a visa, green card or admission to the United States if they were considered likely to use public benefits under the “Public Charge rule.”

Hernandez says many immigrants are afraid of going to hospitals to get tested because seeking government-funded medical assistance could categorize them under the Public Charge analysis and affect their path to citizenship.

“You can go to the doctor without fear.”

Hernandez says as of last week USCIS changed its rule, at least temporarily. And on Wednesday, ICE changed it's enforcement practices and said, "Individuals should not avoid seeking medical care because they fear civil immigration enforcement."

"It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re undocumented or a legal permanent resident, if you feel that you need medical attention in regards to this virus you can go to the doctor without fear of receiving any of the benefits,” said Hernandez.

According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, “USCIS encourages all those, including aliens, with symptoms that resemble coronavirus to seek necessary medical treatment or preventive services. Such treatment or preventive services will not negatively affect as part of a future Public Charge analysis."

“People are confused and scared.”

Still, immigrant advocates like Jose Guzman says people don’t trust the government and are still confused and scared to seek for those health services. For Guzman, it worries him how it’s also affecting U.S. born children, “They are not taking their U.S. born children to hospitals to avoid applying to AHCCCS even if it’s for emergency healthcare services.”

Guzman says another problem is not having enough information about COVID-19 symptoms available in Spanish, “they're not distinguishing between normal flu symptoms or if they're having coronavirus symptoms.”

For now, Guzman says, he will continue trying to keep people calm and informed while Hernandez hopes for a better dissemination of information from the government when it comes to immigration.