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Report urges more relief for undocumented immigrants

Local advocacy groups are making an economic case for expanding financial relief to undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it could benefit New Mexico in the short and the long term.

A new report from the nonprofit New Mexico Voices for Children says $55 million more in federal money would flow into New Mexico if the federal government did not deny CARES Act stimulus payments to certain immigrants, including those who file taxes without Social Security numbers, and, in some cases, their U.S. citizen family members.

The report titled “Essential but Excluded” says an estimated 60,000 undocumented immigrants live in New Mexico and pay $67.7 million in state and local taxes, mostly through the purchase of goods and services.

In addition to missing out on coronavirus stimulus checks – which are up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child – existing policies also restrict their access to safety net programs such as unemployment insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Advocates contend that a failure to help that population now will prolong New Mexico’s eventual rebound.

“In the long term, as New Mexicans finally get back to work, these families will be forced to use future income to pay off debt incurred during the pandemic instead of to jump-start economic recovery in their communities,” the report says.

The report recommends the federal government eliminate immigrant-related stimulus payment exclusions, and allow local and state governments “maximum flexibility” in deciding how to use federal coronavirus relief money coming their way.

The report also calls on New Mexico leaders to provide emergency assistance funding to people who do not qualify for other forms of relief. California, for example, plans to make payments to undocumented immigrants not getting federal stimulus checks.

Other recommendations include expanding the state’s SNAP supplement and allowing taxpayers who file without Social Security numbers access to state low-income and working family tax credits.

“Part of our set of strategies and policies is (using) what is already there in existence – let’s just make sure we’re not discriminating against immigrant taxpayers because of their national origin,” Marcela Diaz, executive director of the immigrant-led advocacy group Somos Un Pueblo Unido, said during a virtual news conference Thursday.

The report did not say how much the recommendations would cost the state to implement.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham did not respond to questions about the report Thursday afternoon.

But one state lawmaker, Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said several lawmakers are thinking about new policies to provide support.

“Undocumented workers are part of the backbone of our economy here in our state. … We have workers in the oil fields, in the dairy industry, in agriculture, in the service industry in Santa Fe,” he said. “We have to do something, and the archaic, cruel rules of the past that are haunting us right now will no longer be acceptable to us in the state.”

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