WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, along with Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Patty Murray (D-WA) today pressed President Trump and his Coronavirus Task Force to immediately halt two administration policies that intimidate people from seeking medical attention, amid serious concerns that these policies could accelerate the spread of the Coronavirus.
The first of the Trump administration’s policies is a practice of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arresting people seeking care at hospitals and other medical facilities and targeting them for potential deportation. The second is the administration’s “public charge” rule, which was implemented on February 24, 2020, and orders U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to use enrollment in certain benefit programs such as Medicaid as a means to deny green cards and visas for individuals. These policies, which stoke fears in migrant communities and keep people from seeking medical attention, could seriously impact community health as the coronavirus outbreak spreads.
“In light of the seriousness of the public health emergency we face, we need the cooperation of all agencies to facilitate a swift response, and the public charge rule impedes that response,” the senators wrote. “We request an immediate moratorium on any enforcement-related actions at sensitive medical locations. We hope that you will agree that prioritizing medical care for people without fear of coming forward will be critical to slowing the spread of a deadly virus.”
Regarding the second rule, the senators continued: “Noting that this rule is counterproductive to millions of families coming forward with symptoms or signs of illness, we urge you to immediately suspend the implementation of the ‘Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds’ rule and issue public notices that alleviate this fear and confusion. We appreciate your cooperation on this matter of putting the public’s health above agency policy and ensuring that all that may be impacted by this public health emergency are able to come forward for care.”
The senators also shared concerns that disruptive civil immigration enforcement activities in medical facilities will place unnecessary burdens on doctors, nurses, clinicians, and lab technicians during this public health emergency, noting that our nation’s health care providers need support and not distraction.
The full text of the letter is available here and is included below.
Dear Mr. President, Vice President Pence, and members of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force:
We write to express deep and urgent concern regarding two key Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policies that will significantly threaten our ability to effectively respond to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. First, DHS must immediately stop all civil immigration enforcement activities occurring in or around public health departments, hospitals, medical clinics and centers, or coronavirus testing sites or laboratories. Second, DHS must also immediately confirm that any person seeking medical testing or treatment related to potential COVID-19 symptoms, regardless of their immigration status, will not be subjected to the “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” rule that was implemented February 24, 2020.
In light of the seriousness of the public health emergency we face, we need the cooperation of all agencies to facilitate a swift response, and the public charge rule impedes that response. We request an immediate moratorium on any enforcement-related actions at sensitive medical locations. We hope that you will agree that prioritizing medical care for people without fear of coming forward will be critical to slowing the spread of a deadly virus. Additionally, freeing medical experts to focus on patient wellbeing rather than disruptive civil immigration enforcement in their places of work is of critical importance. Our health care providers need support, rather than distractions, during a public health emergency.
Additionally, the so-called “public charge” rule implemented last week has been documented to deter people from receiving medical care and diagnostic testing when ill. According to studies, the chilling effect of the public charge rule will impact millions of people, many of whom are eligible to receive medical services under Medicaid, including emergency care. We refer you to reports of families that are eligible for certain services un-enrolling from programs or cancelling appointments at community health clinics and more.
Noting that this rule is counterproductive to millions of families coming forward with symptoms or signs of illness, we urge you to immediately suspend the implementation of the “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” rule and issue public notices that alleviate this fear and confusion. We appreciate your cooperation on this matter of putting the public’s health above agency policy and ensuring that all who may be impacted by this public health emergency are able to come forward for care.
We cannot allow the fear this ill-considered rule creates to scare families away from getting the help that they may need if they come into contact with people with COVID-19 or become ill themselves. It is in the public’s interest that people are able to come forward free of fear of immigration authorities to mitigate the serious impacts of this public health emergency.
CC: Members of the President’s Coronavirus Task Force
Secretary Alex Azar, Department of Health and Human Services
Robert O’Brien, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health
Deputy Secretary Stephen Biegun, Department of State
Ken Cuccinelli, Acting Deputy Secretary, Department of Homeland Security
Joel Szabat, Acting Under Secretary for Policy, Department of Transportation
Matthew Pottinger, Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor
Rob Blair, Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor to the Chief of Staff
Joseph Grogan, Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council
Christopher Liddell, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Coordination
Derek Kan, Executive Associate Director, Office of Management and Budget
 Jeanne Batalova, Michael Fix, and Mark Greenberg. “Millions Will Feel Chilling Effects of U.S. Public-Charge Rule that is also Likely to Reshape Legal Immigration.” Migration Policy Institute. August, 2019. Accessed March 2, 2020. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/news/chilling-effects-us-public-charge-rule-commentary