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Governor Raimondo encourages undocumented residents to seek testing and healthcare during pandemic

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I want to speak directly to Rhode Island’s immigrant community. We want you to be safe and we want you to come forward, get tested and get healthcare,” said Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo during her daily press briefing on Tuesday. “None of the information that we take from you will ever get into the hands of an immigration authority. There are no immigration officials at any of these testing sites, even though they look official and there are people in uniforms.”


Raimondo was responding to a question from UpriseRI, asking if undocumented immigrants availing themselves of public services during the COVID-19 pandemic will be penalized under Trump’s public charge rule, endangering their ability to become permanent legal residents or citizens?

The Public Charge Rule, recently instituted by the Trump Administration, renders immigrants using federally funded benefits such as, but not limited to Medicaid and food stamps potentially ineligible for green cards and visas. Social service providers in Rhode Island have confirmed that undocumented residents in Rhode Island fear seeking government assistance because of this rule.

The Department of Homeland Security so far applies the rule in only two circumstances: One is where people who already have visas issued by the State Department at United States consulates overseas apply at airports or land ports for admission to the the United States. The other is where folks who are already in the United States under a “nonimmigrant” (temporary) immigration status apply for a “green card.”

Many have noted the deleterious effects the public charge rule may have on public health, as undocumented immigrants delay or avoid testing and medical services, contributing to community spread or endangering their lives. See here, here, and here.

UpriseRI began questioning Governor Raimondo on this issue on Monday, asking if Rhode Island is expediting Medicaid applications, if residents self-attest to income and if area hospitals implementing presumptive eligibility?


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“We’re doing our very best to process Medicaid applications as quickly as possible,” replied Governor Raimondo. “With respect to presumptive eligibility, nobody should worry about whether they will have to pay for their hospitalizations. In fact, just today on a call with the Vice President and Seema Verma [Trump’s administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] and the administration, it was made clear that the federal government is working to find ways so that everybody, even the currently uninsured, will not have out-of-pocket expenses associated with hospitalizations on account of coronavirus. Exactly what form that will take, they’re still figuring it out. There may be direct disbursements of capitol to hospitals, [or] a disbursement to the state. So I don’t have a perfect answer right now, but I do want everyone in Rhode Island to get the care that they need if they get sick with coronavirus and not to worry about getting stuck with the bill.”

On Tuesday UpriseRI followed up, with a question specifically about undocumented residents: Will undocumented immigrants availing themselves of public services during the pandemic be penalized under Trump’s public charge rule, endangering their ability to become permanent legal residents or citizens?

“I want to speak directly to Rhode Island’s immigrant community. We want you to be safe and we want you to come forward, get tested and get healthcare,” said Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo during her daily press briefing on Tuesday. “None of the information that we take from you will ever get into the hands of an immigration authority. There are no immigration officials at any of these testing sites, even though they look official and there are people in uniforms.”

“You do not have to pay. If you show up, you will not be asked to pay and there are places that you can get for a test and there are places that you can receive treatment for free – the various free clinics,” continued the Governor. “So if you’re in these communities, life is already difficult and there’s a lot of reasons to be afraid. I need you now to know [that] we are going to do everything we can to take care of you and your families.

“And if you feel sick, please get tested. Go to CVS.com and sign up for an appointment to be tested. Call your doctor, sign up for an appointment to be tested. If you are sick, make sure we get you the right care and don’t worry about paying your bills for healthcare expenses as it relates to COVID-19,” concluded Raimondo. “We’re all in it together and we want to make sure it’s in everybody’s interest in Rhode Island for everybody to be tested and put in quarantine and isolation if they are sick and for everybody to get the healthcare that they need and deserve.”

Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading. atomicsteve@gmail.com