Tag Archives: immigrant communities

Integrate, Don’t Scapegoat Immigrants To Thrive

America is finally beginning to understand that immigrant communities, including undocumented workers, are the backbone of the nation’s economy and deserve protection as they bear the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic, said California Insurance Commissioner Riccardo Lara.

At a telebriefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services on April 22, Lara reiterated the state’s commitment to its immigrant community by announcing protections for essential workers affected by COVID-19.

“As we figure out how to survive as a community we need to make sure that our immigrants are protected.”

In the midst of the pandemic, Californians, like the rest of the nation, rely more than ever on ‘supply and logistics troops’  to deliver essentials that help them abide by shelter in place  mandates.

Essential workers include low paid ‘warehouse workers, shelf-stockers, supermarket cashiers, UPS drivers, municipal employees, and home health aides, among others,’ for whom sick leave is an impossible luxury, writes George Packer in The Atlantic. “In a smartphone economy that hides whole classes of human beings, we’re learning where our food and goods come from, who keeps us alive.”

“When you look at who’s doing the farm labor, delivering our groceries, working in warehouses and packing the goods we’re buying online, it’s primarily immigrants who are doing those jobs and are now considered essential workers,” Lara pointed out.

He confirms that insurance commissioners across the country agree that immigrants are essential workers in essential parts of the economy like food production, manufacturing, or construction.

“Finally, broader society is understanding that the work that immigrants do are essential services, and seeing first-hand how essential they are to the economy of the country and the state of California.”

COVID19 Takes Grim Toll of Frontline Workers

Nearly a quarter of the nation’s undocumented immigrants reside in California. The Cato Institute reports that immigrants form 33 percent of all California’s essential workers, with about 4.6 million immigrants engaged in producing food and equipment, maintaining operations at hospitals and research facilities, and distributing supplies across the state.

They are also the most at risk of dying from on the job exposure to COVID19, performing jobs deemed “essential” for society.

In New York, nearly one in five workers most at risk for COVID-19 exposure are non-citizens, says its comptroller, of  a city where a staggering 83  MTA workers have died. In California, healthcare workers have been hit hard by the virus with 4,453 testing positive, accounting for 11% of total infections statewide.

What Protections are offered?

California will shield its immigrant workers during the pandemic by giving them the right to file claims if they fall ill with exposure to COVID 19 in the course of their work.

New initiatives will build on measures California has already implemented to protect its workers, regardless of their immigration status.

Under California law all workers including undocumented workers Injured on the job are eligible for  workers comp. In 2015, as a member of the California State Senate, Lara expanded protections for undocumented workers injured on the job, to include compensation in addition to standard workers’ compensation benefits.

In March this year, Governor Gavin Newsome responded to the pandemic with an executive order endorsing workers eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits if they are exposed to or contract COVID-19 on the job.

Later in April Newsome announced a $75 million disaster relief fund to provide monetary relief for immigrant workers affected by COVID-19, pioneering a statewide public-private partnership with philanthropic partners who have committed to raising an additional $50 million in financial assistance. The fund will pay a one-time cash benefit of $500 per adult, capped at $1,000 per household, reports NBCnews.

“This unprecedented pandemic has sparked questions and concerns among essential workers in the immigrant community who are showing up for work every day, bringing us vital goods and services,”  said Lara.

So, California will ensure that workers engaged in front-line occupations such as health care, emergency services, food production, sales, and delivery, among others, get the protection they deserve.

“We want them to access healthcare if they fall sick, we want them to contribute as essential workers without fear of losing their license, or the discounts they are entitled to. If they have healthcare we give them a 60-day grace period to allow them to pay their premiums and keep their healthcare for themselves and their families,” Lara emphasized.

New healthcare directives will cut the cost of co-pays and cost sharing for COVID 19 tests, enable workers to file claims and find access to test and treatment; and, law enforcement will be asked to refrain from ticketing people with invalid licenses.

Lara has issued a Notice to alert insurance companies that all workers exposed to COVID-19 are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if they fall ill, regardless of their immigration status; claims cannot be denied on the basis of an injured worker’s immigration status.

Auto insurance companies are being asked not to change premium rates for people with expired licenses (as most of the undocumented community tend to have AV 60 licenses), and to make sure consumers don’t lose discounts.

Lara has ordered insurance companies to adjust premiums and issue refunds to consumers via credit or check, and contact customers to return those refunds.

His department will first screen the refund process says Lara, to verify that insurance companies offer the maximum discounts possible – up to 50 to 70% in some cases – to  accurately reflect the reduced risk of fewer drivers and accidents on the road. Refunds will be extended through May if the stay-at-home orders continue.

Lara also is coordinating with the Dept of Industrial Relations to resolve coronavirus claims, workers compensation and any insurance-related issues. His department will track claims coming out of the workers comp system to determine if undocumented workers are covered, and make sure claims not being denied because of their legal status.

Multilingual staff and experts will be available (at 1-800-927-4357) to answer all queries – whether it’s employee access to PPE, getting extensions on insurance payments or calling insurance companies on behalf of workers to find options.

The Pandemic and People of Color 

“People of color, immigrant groups, always bear the brunt of societal ills,” noted Lara, “and this pandemic is no different. But we can answer any queries on helping people understand what their rights are.”

As the Trump administration doubles down on unfounded threats from immigrants with executive orders on sanctuary cities, border security and the recent temporary immigration ban to protect American jobs, immigrant communities are under siege.

Fear of falling foul of rulings like the Public Charge is keeping undocumented residents and workers from signing up for safety net programs for which they are eligible, say advocacy groups.

Lara has a message for them. “Essential workers don’t have to put themselves at risk. Don’t forgo your safety. If you are at risk, get resources that protect your health and safety, so you can continue doing your work.”

Incorporate Don’t Scapegoat Our Immigrants

Lara says it’s ironic that the public are only beginning to recognize the contributions of immigrants in the midst of a pandemic. But California is setting the national standard for bringing immigrant communities out of the shadows.

“What we’ve done here in California, “in terms of bills we have promulgated, is to demonstrate that we can actually incorporate everyone into our economy and the economy continues to grow.”

By giving immigrants services, health benefits, schooling and opportunities to participate socially and understand their rights – helps absorb them so they contribute to the economy at a greater scale than possible, remarked Lara, who is the son of undocumented immigrants. “Quite honestly…immigrants that are coming here contribute in significantly more than other groups.”

What California has clearly demonstrated to the nation says Lara, is that by integrating not scapegoating its immigrant and undocumented populations, California’s economy continues to grow and thrive. “California is the fifth largest economy in world.”

“The sky doesn’t fall.”

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash


Sizing Up Immigrant Rights—Best Hope In Ballot Box

Less than two weeks after the Trump administration’s arbitrary deadline for Congress to take action on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) came and went with no solution, four veterans of the immigrant rights movement agreed that the outlook is bleak and the challenges are significant. The greatest hope lies in the voting booth –a shift of power out of Republican hands after the November elections – and the fact that those most impacted are taking action to protect themselves and inform others in their communities.

“It’s highly unlikely that Congress is going to pass any relief to benefit young people who make a huge contribution to the country they call home,” said Frank Sharry, Director of America’s Voice in Washington DC.   “Congress and the White House are no friends.”

Sharry was joined by attorney Joshua Rosenthal of the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) deputy director Sally Kinoshita, and California Labor Federation field coordinator for southern California Hector Saldivar. The four spoke on a national telebriefing for ethnic media on March 13, hosted by ILRC’s Ready California.

Calling it a “war on immigrants,” Sharry said the  administration aims to “slash immigration by 50%, turbocharge deportations and construct a border wall as wasteful as it is insulting,” He counted five failed bipartisan efforts to provide the “bill of love” the president claimed to want while decreeing the end of DACA.

Democratic leadership, for its part, “despite a lot of effort, a lot of back and forth,” simply “couldn’t cut a deal with a leadership that doesn’t want to make a deal.”

“It’s a cynical, cruel strategy that the White House has pursued,” Sharry said. “Our best hope is that litigation will allow Dreamers to keep their status until hopefully we get a new Congress (in November’s elections).”  If power shifts out of Republican hands, there will be “a much better chance – although not a slam dunk – that legislation will be able to move forward.”

In the meantime, people are forced into “a horrible decision, to stay without papers or leave. We’re hoping to protect as many people as possible, buy them as much time as possible.”

NILC lawyer Rosenthal was also cautious in his assessment of efforts to challenge the Trump campaign through the courts.   “Courts are only able to go so far. They’re not going to be the final answer. We can’t ignore the role of Congress and the states in providing protection for immigrants.”

He cited as good news rulings in California and New York this year that found the Trump administration’s Sept. 5 announcement it would cut off DACA applications a month later to be “arbitrary and capricious.”   When the government tried to fast-track an appeal of those rulings to the Supreme Court, the justices refused to consider taking the case until they had gone through the remaining lower-level appeals courts, meaning that those eligible to renew their DACA status can continue to do so. If they do eventually review the case, their decision wouldn’t arrive until the spring of 2019.

Even then, he added, the injunction “is a limited, temporary form of relief.” It leaves out an important set of people, those unable to receive DACA status prior to the Trump administration’s decision to end the program.

Rosenthal recommended visiting informedimmigrant.com and its Spanish version, immigranteinformado.com, for lists of trustworthy service providers sorted by location for help in applying for DACA, and other information.

With almost a third of  the country’s undocumented immigrants, California has mounted the most comprehensive effort to resist the Trump administration’s “war on immigrants,” declaring itself a sanctuary state.

Sally Kinoshita of ILRC noted that there is no legal definition of the term “sanctuary.” But she cited several state measures that provide some resistance to federal efforts against immigrant communities.   These include SB 54, AB103 and AB540 which respectively restrict the ability of local law enforcement to cooperate with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement); require the state attorney general to inspect detention facilities operated under contract with the federal government; and require judicial warrants in advance of detentions.

“These laws help to make clear that California is much safer for immigrants,” Kinoshita said.  Despite that, ICE recently launched a four-day campaign in Northern California in which 40% of the more than 200 arrested had no criminal records.  The raids aim to stoke public fear by portraying immigrants as a threat.

Kinoshita noted that the state has budgeted $45 million for immigration education, outreach and legal services.

The state’s Department of Social Services’ website lists 100 nonprofits that receive state funding and have either free or low cost services.  She recommended those in California refer to ready-california.org, with its lists of trusted service providers, trainings and events.

For those all-important screenings, Kinoshita recommended the website immi.org, which enables people to do them anonymously and online.

Hector Saldivar, who coordinates field activities for the California Labor Federation, spoke of increased fear and anxiety throughout immigrant communities. Himself a DACA recipient, he described his own family’s agonizing situation when his mother was recently denied re-entry into the country.

Like Kinoshita, Saldivar praised AB540 for its role in curtailing ICE’s ability to enter work places at will without a judicial warrant. On the ground, he said, forming a network of rapid response units has “provided solidarity and support” for workers facing ICE raids and “silent raids” – audits of a workplace’s I-9 forms that verify workers’ identity and employment authorization.

“This is the most crucial time to go out and show our support,” he said, “particularly for those whose status is secure.  We’re not going to allow them to be picked up or detained and then forgotten.”

Kinoshita agreed. “We can no longer ask those who are most vulnerable to take the most risk.  People who are eligible to naturalize need to do it now,” she said, even if only to vote.

Voting, she said, falls “on the less risky side” of actions people can take and “is so critical.”  “We need Congress to step up. We’re relying heavily on the judiciary and can’t take it for granted.”

Calling the current political climate “one of the darkest chapters in American history,” Frank Sharry said his biggest worry going forward is that “Republicans will maintain control of Congress.”

He’s hopeful, though, that immigration activists are going to prevail, not only in the courts and on the streets, but at the ballot box.

“We’re on the right side of history.”


Immigrant Rights Activists See Turning Point For All Americans

By Mark Hedin, Ethnic Media Services

Warning that the country is heading down a white nationalist, nativist path, four immigrant rights advocates issued a call to action just hours before the U.S. Senate rejected all four proposals to change U.S. immigration policy, and a second federal court found the president’s “Muslim ban” unconstitutional.

The advocates spoke at a national telebriefing for ethnic media sponsored by Ready California, a collaborative cross-sector effort led by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

“We’ve all learned to expect the unexpected,” said Sameera Hafiz, an attorney and senior policy strategist for the ILRC in Washington, DC.  “The reason we’re here is because of Trump’s decision in September to rescind the DACA program and throw the lives of close to 800,000 young people into chaos and uncertainty.

“But while the Senate was ostensibly debating the future of the DACA program,” Hafiz argued,  “the reality is that any (proposed) DACA proposals go hand in hand with eliminating the diversity visa program, severely curtailing the family immigration program and expansive border enforcement measures – far beyond what we think about when we think about border security.”

“And while we’ve been focused in DC on the legislative side, we’ve been distracted from what the administration is already doing.” Hafiz cited attacks on jurisdictions with sanctuary policies and other enforcement actions against Dreamers, mothers and activists.

Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), agreed that what is underway is an attack on legal immigration itself which she called “a white nationalist agenda (whereby) certain individuals are not qualified to come into the United States based on their country of birth and their religion.”

On average, Salas noted, “our clients being deported from Los Angeles had been in the country more than 25 years. With the crippling of various legal channels like the Central American minors program, the separation of children from parents, the ending of diversity vistas, “the list goes on,” she said –“we’re destroying people’s lives.”

“This is not just about the immigrant community any more. It’s about what kind of country we want and who we are, as Americans.”

Zahra Billoo,  executive director of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and a civil rights attorney, hailed the decision by the Fourth Circuit which joined a chorus of courts across the country who have said that the Muslim ban is unconstitutional. Nevertheless, she noted, “Whether you are from Iran or Somalia, it does not matter what your story is, you cannot come to the US.”   Billoo quoted a Georgetown University estimate that 60000 people had been impacted in their efforts to get an education or see their families.

“We’re optimistic,” she said, but cautioned that what’s legal doesn’t always align with what’s moral.  “The court in the past has allowed many unjust things, such as the Japanese internment.”

Adoubou Traore, director of the African Advocacy Network which provides legal counsel for immigrants of the African diaspora, highlighted the dramatic growth of the African immigrant community, from 816,000 in 1980 to more than 4 million in 2016,  Largely faceless and voiceless, this population has borne the brunt of every new restrictive immigration measure, from the Muslim ban to the removal of Temporary Protective Status (TPS).   As immigrants and as Blacks, “we are the only group that has been named racially, and coming from countries that have been named in ways that I don’t even want to repeat, but we all heard it.”

Asked about the future of the immigrant rights movement, Salas noted the “tremendous mobilization by immigrant youth and this will only increase as people mobilize around the March 5 Congressional deadline for a solution on DACA.  

“But this is a call to the broader immigrant community and Americans in general,” Salas emphasized.

“We need to stand up not just to be in solidarity with immigrants and refugees, and our brothers and sisters from the Muslim community. We need to stand up as Americans, as a country saying this is not who we are or what our values are.  I think this is what’s missing.”