What Undocumented Immigrants in PA Need to Know About Healthcare Rights during the COVID-19 Pandemic

PRESENTE spoke with Attorney Kevin Quisenberry and Outreach Paralegal Rafael Bullones of Community Justice Project, a nonprofit law firm that is part of the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, to learn more about undocumented immigrant rights during the COVID pandemic. CJP seeks to protect the basic needs and legal rights of low-income individuals and families in Pennsylvania and to assist them in their efforts to become self-sufficient or to otherwise improve their lives and the communities in which they live. Here is what they shared –

  1. What can undocumented immigrants do if they feel sick or think they may have COVID-19?
    These folks should seek medical attention right away.  DHS has said that it will authorize Emergency Medical Assistance (EMA) for undocumented persons for testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19. If undocumented immigrants do not have a health provider to call, they can call the PA Department of Health at 1-877-PA-HEALTH.  The PA Department of Health has a Spanish option. More info is available here.
  2. How do I use Emergency Medical Assistance?
    Medical providers know how to help patients with Medical Assistance applications, and they should be familiar with Emergency Medical Assistance (EMA). They may not be aware that in the case of COVID-19, filing a Medical Assistance application is the only DHS requirement. The usual EMA verification is not necessary.  The provider/applicant should state in the note section of the application that they are applying for EMA for COVID-19 coverage.
  3. Are there any limitations to who can receive Emergency Medical Assistance?
    Yes. Individuals must be income eligible for some categories, but with so many people losing their employment the past few weeks, this may not be an issue. If they have income, the analysis is a little trickier, but we could help with that.
  4. What can they do if asked to provide an insurance card?
    Undocumented immigrants cannot be denied care based on being uninsured.  The patient should mention they were advised that they are eligible for Emergency Medical Assistance through DHS and ask for help in filing an application. 
  5. If this does not work, they should call us.Can ICE (or other agencies) question/arrest undocumented immigrants while seeking health care?
    Health care facilities are “sensitive locations”, meaning that ICE will not carry out enforcement operations at or near health care facilities (hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics, and urgent care facilities) except for extraordinary circumstances. Nevertheless, anyone who may be subject to immigration enforcement is encouraged to contact CJP or other local organizations for materials relating to their rights in an enforcement situation.
  6. Are there any other local organizations helping to coordinate health assistance for undocumented immigrants?
    There are a few options:
    • Birmingham Free Clinic – 2100 Jane Street; Pittsburgh, PA 15203 | 412-481-7900 ext. 281
    • Squirrel Hill Medical Center – 4516 Browns Hill Rd Pittsburgh, PA 15217 | 412-422-7442
    • East Liberty Medical Center – 6023 Harvard St. 1st Floor | Pittsburgh, PA 15206 | 412-661-2802
  7. What other local resources are available to support UIs during the COVID-19 emergency?
    Organizations such as Casa San Jose, Latino Family Center, Latino Community Center, Pittsburgh Hispanic Development Corporation and CJP may be able to provide assistance or connect them with other service providers.
  8. Where is CJP located, how can UIs needing help reach out?
    All of our staff are presently working remotely.  Our Pittsburgh office is located at 100 Fifth Avenue, Suite 900, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.  For the time being, the best way to reach us is by email (info@cjplaw.org) or by phone (Rafael Bullones – 412-580-8143).  

We thank the Community Justice Project for sharing all this important information with our community. PRESENTE will continue in conversation with CJP to assist in keeping Western PA Latinos stay safe and informed during these uncertain times.

HOLA AMIGOS! Share your comments and ideas with us at admin@presentepgh.com.

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