Tag Archives: Immigrants

Few Gigs Left In The Gig Economy

My daughter recently moved to the Bay Area. She has a new job, her first out of college, but viewed the move with trepidation. Could she and her roommates afford west coast rents on their modest salaries? They worried about returning to their old bargain basement digs – unsavory but inexpensive – it got broken into twice, and one night they awoke to find a passerby smashing in their car windscreen with a brick.

They wanted safe – but could not afford it.

The hunt was on. The onset of COVID19 had driven all three home to their parents. But understandably, the itch to get on with grown up lives even in the new normal, intensified their search.

After four months of trawling through rental property websites, an Airbnb host offered the trio her charming San Francisco apartment at an incredible discount – much to their disbelief, it was well below its listing price. It appears that after the owner’s business took a nosedive in the pandemic, she was prepared to take a chance on newly minted graduates, offering them a long term rental they could just about afford.

Many gig workers like my daughter’s new Airbnb landlady took a hit when the pandemic struck. Once, they were the face of a thriving gig economy  – Airbnb reported that its women hosts earned nearly $15 billion in the last year alone.. But as the pandemic unceremoniously sank the economy, forcing businesses to shut and jobs to vanish under the threat of infection, many gig workers – Airbnb hosts, Uber drivers, dog walkers, babysitters, Task Rabbit ‘taskers’ – faced with the prospect of layoffs, reduced hours and pay, had to invent new ways to supplement incomes in order to survive.

Dr. Alexandrea Ravenelle

“Quite frankly, now is not a good time to be a gig worker, said Dr. Alexandrea Ravenelle, Professor of Sociology (UNC Chapel Hill), at an Oct 2 Ethnic Media Services briefing about the pandemic’s devastating impact on the gig economy.

Not only do gig workers find business drying up, but those who depend on app-based livelihoods risk exposure to the coronavirus.

Uber and Lyft drivers taking strangers to airports and Task Rabbit workers going into private homes to assist or run errands, are especially vulnerable, because they often work jobs “in close proximity with strangers that carries a high risk of exposure to COVID19,” warned Dr. Ravenelle, who interviewed 200 gig workers for a study. The danger of infection coupled with a huge drop in demand for their services, puts gig workers in a “lose lose situation.”

Challenges facing gig workers

Already enduring precarious circumstances, gig workers are now forced to compete for a smaller share of offerings. Even though the lockdown triggered increasing demand for food delivery apps – DoorDash, UberEats, GrubHub – and grocery shopping apps like Shipt and Instacart, which app-based workers have long relied on as dependable sources of income, the rise in demand hasn’t helped.

In fact, app-based workers now are fighting off growing competition from a surge of newly unemployed workers for food delivery jobs, even as they fight to keep the virus at bay. In Chicago, Saori Okawa, who worked as an Uber driver before the pandemic, told the Chicago Tribune she was making less money delivering food now than she did ferrying passengers in her car.

Growing numbers of unemployed workers are using what Dr. Ravenelle, calls the ‘side hustle safety net’ to keep afloat in a sinking economy. New ‘hustlers’ are flooding the gig economy, either because they do not know they are eligible to receive unemployment benefits, or, can no longer wait for funds; but many refuse to apply for what they perceive as the stigma of a government handout. Even documented and green card holders who are eligible have refused unemployment benefits, fearing it would jeopardize their legal status.

Newcomers are turning to gig jobs as “an occupation of last resort,” even though it pays less than unemployment benefits, said Dr. Ravenelle. Many want to escape being trapped at home without any work, but most unemployed workers are desperate to feed their families and pay their rent.

She revealed that this non-traditional workforce as a whole is slightly more educated than the overall workforce; the survey indicated that 36% of respondents had undergraduate degrees, while some even held PhDs and medical degrees.

Nevertheless, none of these workers will find allies in the multibillion dollar companies that hire them, especially in California (and San Francisco in particular), which has a higher concentration of workers, because that’s where many online platform companies got their start.

Prop 22 Hurts Gig Workers

In California, gig companies are trying to sidestep legislation (AB5) that reclassified gig workers as employees, to avoid paying benefits or guarantee a minimum wage to workers. App-based giants Uber, Lyft, Instacart and DoorDash spent almost $188 million to support Prop 22  – a ballot measure to reclassify app-based (rideshare) and delivery drivers as independent contractors instead of employees, and exempt themselves from compensating workers fairly. Prop 22 would deny drivers basic safety net protections like paid sick leave, workers compensation or unemployment benefits, that are crucial during this pandemic. It removes time-based wage protections, so drivers are only guaranteed $5 an hour. As 1099-based independent contractors, workers are not entitled to minimum wage, overtime, or unemployment insurance.  Nor would there be protections for health and safety, family or workers’ compensation.

Dr.Veena Dubal, UC Hastings School of Law

“Drivers in California are owed billions in dollars from back wages, said Dr. Veena Dubal, from UC Hastings  School of Law, calling Prop 22 “the most dangerous labor law that I’ve seen in in my lifetime.”

“We need the benefits. We don’t want to depend on public assistance when we’re working for multi-billion dollar corporations,” said Robert Moreno, one of over 57 million US gig workers (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), who makes a living as an Uber driver.  “The almost $200 million that Uber and Lyft spent on the campaign could have covered almost three years of benefits.”

Robert Moreno, gig worker & panellist

After the pandemic Moreno saw his wages drop nearly in half from $850 to around $350 for a weekend shift, as the ride-share giant began to shortchange drivers with fee schedules and penalties. Moreno alleged his fee share dropped from 50% to 25% of the fare even as Uber charged passengers more than the fare shown on the driver’s app. Drivers are only compensated for ride time but not for awaiting a fare, so, if the ride time is just 5 minutes, asked Moreno, “What’s the profit in that?”  Uber also penalized drivers who refused low rated passengers or end-of-shift pickups, by giving them inferior assignments.

“There is no flexibility. They own you,” said Moreno.

Layoffs, cost-cutting, decrease in demand and safety concerns are forcing gig workers to quit, even as the coronavirus threatens the economy, their lives and livelihood.

Will gig workers survive the pandemic?

In March, Airbnb reported that in the last 12 years, women’s percentage of five-star reviews had grown to 83 percent, but by July, Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s chief executive, told 1,900 employees – a quarter of Airbnb’s work force – they were out.

My daughter’s Airbnb host has renewed her lease for another 6 months.

The odds aren’t in your favor when gigs dry up in a gig economy.


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Image by InstagramFOTOGRAFIN from Pixabay

 

California’s Diversity Makes Accurate Census Difficult

California’s rich diversity of ethnic populations makes an accurate census count extremely challenging, says Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder and director of AAPI Data.

“California’s diversity is the source of our strength. There’s a lot that we gain from having the kind of racial diversity. At the same time, those factors make it more challenging to count,” said Ramakrishnan, who serves as the associate dean of the UC Riverside School of Public Policy, and professor of public policy and political science.

Ramakrishnan cited a lack of in-language resources, geographic diversity, including populations living in rural areas, and first-generation immigrants who may not understand the census process or its importance as barriers to getting an accurate count of California’s population.

Many immigrants also fear the information they share on the nine-question form may be shared with immigration enforcement authorities or the Internal Revenue Service. “It’s important to reassure them that all of the information they provide is protected by law,” and not shared with other agencies, said Ramakrishnan.

“The census is constitutionally mandated by the US Constitution to make sure that every person counts. So this includes citizens as well as non citizens regardless of their immigration status or what kind of visa that they have,” he said.

Reaching the Asian American Pacific Islander population poses some unique challenges, said the researcher, noting that a large percentage of the population of California are first generation AAPIs with limited English language proficiency.

“So it’s so important for us to make sure that we are reaching out to them in a language that they understand and that we’re using trusted messengers, people that they trust from their faith-based associations to nonprofits that serve them so that they can be reassured that this information is protected,” said Ramakrishnan.

The U.S. Census Bureau conducted a survey of Asian Americans, Blacks, Hispanics and whites two years ago.Two-thirds of Asian Americans surveyed said they were extremely to somewhat concerned that their data would be used against them.

About 43 percent of AAPIS surveyed said they would not likely fill out the Census form. Only 22 percent said they were familiar with the Census.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also made it harder to reach populations that have had a history of non-participation. “The disease and the economic fallout are hurting communities that are least likely to be counted by the census,” said Ramakrishnan, advocating for investments in health care and economic assistance for vulnerable communities.

Census data, collected every 10 years, is used to allocate federal resources and accurate representation in Congress. Businesses also use data from the decennial survey to determine where to set up shop.

As of early July, more than 46 percent of California households had filled out their Census forms, according to the California Census 2020 Campaign. San Mateo County had the highest response rate in the state, with over 72 percent of residents returning the survey, which can be mailed in or filled out online. Enumerators do go door to door to reach households who have not filled out their census forms.

America Runs on Diversity: GUAA Winner

Being the child of immigrants colors your experience in the Land of the Free. From navigating between different cultures to confronting whitewashing and racism, teenagers used the ‘Growing Up Asian in America‘ contest to pay tribute to their cultural roots. Read fourth grader Ella Dattamajumdar’s essay, America Runs On Diversity, where she discusses the inextricable relationship between America and its immigrant communities. This essay has been paired with, artwork contest winner, America Is Not Complete Without Us, created by sixth-grader An Ly. 

America runs on Dunkin’ is the punchline of one of my favorite foods, but I say that America runs on Diversity. It takes all sorts to make this world, whether it’s doughnuts, dal, dumplings or daikon! Cuisines of the world bring us together. Not just cuisines but diverse perspectives too. I believe that everybody should have a voice because one word can change the world. Everyone has their own opinion or unique perspective, if famous people didn’t speak up they would have never achieved great things and become who they are today.

For example, if Asian American, Jerry Yang did not put his ideas to action we would never have Yahoo. For my essay I am using Google and Microsoft Word which are headed by Sundar Pichai and Satya Nadella. I admire Senator Kamala Harris who was raised by an Indian American mother. They are so many successful Asian Americans who have made America proud. I find Nina Davuluri who is the first Asian American woman to win Miss America very inspiring. At the Miss America contest talent round she performed a Bollywood dance. A lot of people were upset and said hurtful comments when she won Miss America as she looked different compared to the past winners.

I feel that being American is a state of mind, it is based on a common set of values and beliefs and not based on how we look, the color of our skin, what we eat, how we speak or where our grandparents come from. Just look around the Silicon Valley — every time I drive around with my family we are always debating what to eat — Biryani, Pho Soup, Sushi, Pad Thai, Tacos, or Steak. We need all kinds of nutrients to nourish our brains whether it is food or diverse perspectives. I dream of being an Asian American leader who is proud of her heritage and can make America proud because America truly runs on diversity.


Image: The artwork, entitled, America Is Not Complete Without Us, was created by sixth-grader An Ly. 

Essay: American Runs on Diversity was written by fourth-grader Ella Dattamajumdar

When You Can’t Send Money Home

Parents of migrants live alone denied the presence of their children in times of need.

Their children, immigrants in another country, send money home to ensure their parents are not wanting for food and help. Often migrants leave their own children behind with grandparents or family members as they seek a living in a foreign land, promising to return with treasures for both parents and children.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, one out of five workers are unemployed and many have their wages reduced, threatening to cut that lifeline of support between child and parent.

The inability to remit money home because of job loss or a decline in wages endangers the reliability of that support. A drop in remittance means that a migrant’s family back in their home country won’t be able to afford food, healthcare, and basic needs. As the money dries up, the pandemic will unleash unrelenting poverty and an unexpected pandemic of hunger for some families.

The number of people dying every day due to starvation will overtake the number of dead as a result of COVID-19 and the “hunger pandemic” will bring “the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, warned UN World Food Programme (WFP).130 million people could be on the brink of starvation by the end of 2020 as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and its economic ramifications.

At a webinar on May 8th organized by Ethnic Media Services and sponsored by the Blue Shield of California Foundation, to examine Covid-19’s Impact on the Developing World, experts reviewed trends as the pandemic spreads. Demetrios Papademetriou, of the non-partisan, Washington-based think tank The Migration Policy Institute, stated that the true effects of this pandemic would be visible in the next 3 months. Unparalleled economic devastation, the kind we have never ever experienced, not even during World War II, will reveal its true form.

Dulce Gamboa, a Policy Specialist at Bread for the World, discussed the impact of Covid-19 on malnutrition and famine in the developing world and the need for a global response to a new pandemic of hunger. COVID-19 could cause extreme hunger to double, she said. Malnutrition weakens peoples’ immune systems and children who are malnourished face long-term health and cognitive consequences. Bread for the World is urging Congress to expand health and humanitarian programs, strengthen the global food supply chain and social protection programs, and allow U.S. funded school feeding programs around the world to serve children while schools are closed.

The United Nations food agency reports that at least 300,000 people will die every day over a three-month period as a result of the outbreak and its economic ramifications as the catastrophic coronavirus chokes off cash lifelines for hard-pressed households in poorer countries.

Globally in 2017, an estimated $625 billion (USD) was sent by migrants to individuals in their home countries, according to economists at the World Bank. These remittances are important economic resources in developing countries. According to a 2016 World Bank report, remittance flows into these nations are more than three times that of official development aid. For instance, Nepal received an estimated $6.6 billion in remittances, equivalent to 31.3% of its GDP, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of World Bank data for 2016. In Sri Lanka, where seven percent of the households have a migrant abroad, remittances form 8% of the GDP.

Remittances, once considered more stable than other kinds of external capital flows, are now in danger of drying up as all countries have been hit at the same time with the same pandemic.

The economic fallout of COVID-19 will be catastrophic for families and nations. COVID-19 has shown us how globalization spreads contagion of all kinds.

We have little visibility into how bad, bad is going to be, but for now, the song that once played at the Sri Lankan airport is silent.

“After much hardship, such difficult times
How lucky I am to work in a foreign land.
I promise to return home with treasures for everyone”

Ritu Marwah wrote this article as a fellow of Ethnic Media Services.

 

School Closures Hurt Families and Children

Millions of Americans are experiencing threats to their health and economic security during the pandemic, says Mayra Alvarez, President of The Children’s Partnership, but it’s “especially true for children from immigrant families” who have been severely impacted by the lockdown.

Covid19-related school closures are hurting children who have traditionally relied on the safety net that schools provide.

Schools play a critical role in offering education, physical activity and enrichment activities for children across the country, says Alvarez, but many children from low income and families of color also rely on school meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.

“For many families, schools are a key source of childcare.”

School closures mean months of lost time in classrooms, but they adversely impact vulnerable children who have lost access to low-cost or free school meals, the community of their teachers and classmates, and other benefits built into the educational infrastructure.

Covid-19 is likely to exacerbate the inequities in learning opportunities that have existed for far too long for marginalized children, Alvarez said.

Along with a panel of experts, Alvarez was discussing the pandemic’s effects on minority communities and the implications of going back to work after the lockdown, at a telebriefing organized by Ethnic Media Services on May 1.

What school closures mean

At least 55.1 million students at nearly 124 thousand public and private schools have been impacted as the majority of US States have ordered or recommended school building closures for the rest of the school year said Alvarez.

But, as schools transition to remote learning environments that offer a ‘multitude of distance learning resources’, children from underserved communities may not be able to access web-based academic instruction and enrichment activities during the closure.

Many of them will lose months of normal instruction. As a result, children who are already academically behind and underserved will suffer without the support schools offer them and their families, said Alvarez.

It’s an “unprecedented risk to education and wellbeing,” she said, particularly for the most marginalized children who rely on school for education, health, safety and nutrition.

Families are Struggling

Immigrants and their families who are being excluded from federal relief efforts face increasing economic hardships and health risks, Alvarez pointed out.

In a recent survey by the Children’s Partnership and Education Trust West, a poll of 600 parents across California showed that more than half of parents with young children (aged 0-5) were uneasy about personal finances. More than a third were not confident about being able to pay for basic needs like food, housing and healthcare.

The results were ‘not surprising, but deeply disheartening’ said Alvarez. COVID 19 is threatening the physical, mental and emotional health of families

About one in three parents are skipping or reducing meals so their kids don’t go hungry, a number that increases significantly among new parents with a child one to six months old, low income parents, Latinx parents, and families in some Los Angeles counties.

Less than a quarter (18%) of families are currently able to access their doctor through telehealth and nearly 1 in 3 parents have missed health appointments for their child due to Covid19,

Researchers also learned that 72% of families (57% of black, 76% of Latinx) are worried about mental health, and 23% of parents worried about the impact of substance abuse and domestic violence.

Results reveal that young children under five are facing significant mental health risks at an age when their brains are rapidly developing and are most at risk from trauma and adverse childhood experiences.

The coronavirus has been incredibly disruptive, risking the heath and wellbeing of parents and children across California, says Alvarez.

As families struggle with financial and food security, access to health programs and web-based support, their challenges are made worse by existing inequities for low income families and families of color in particular, says Alvarez.

“‘It’s clear from the data that the children whose families are being hit hardest by this crisis are the same children that our systems of education, health and social services have long failed to support. We can and must do better” urged Alvarez

How will children emerge from this crisis?

In California, Governor Gavin Newsome has issued a roadmap for reopening the state, its schools and childcare centers.

Modifications include an early start to the next school year, class sizes cut in half, staggered schedules and expanded childcare facilities. Safety measures feature protocols for protections, physical distancing and limiting the number of students during meal distribution, PE classes or recess.

However, there remain many unknowns, says Alvarez, and a timeline is still unclear.

What is clear is that families and children, especially in marginalized communities, need a level playing field as communities reopen.

How children emerge from this crisis will depend on how they are affected by the choices parents and caregivers make about basic expenses, Alvarez suggested. That means:

  • Parents and caregivers need financial resources, so they don’t have to worry about basic expenses or make choices on what to spend on in this crisis – healthcare, food or housing.
  • Students returning to school need support to address emerging academic, health & psychological needs.
  • People need web-based support and free online resources to access distance learning or virtual storytime, so they don’t fall behind.
  • Families need support to access telehealth and health professionals for their health and wellbeing; It is critical that they get childcare arrangements and parenting support they need.
  • Providing meals for families with food insecurity need (EG: Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer) critical in reaching vulnerable communities.

“Our response to the pandemic must ensure that of children of color, dual language learners, and children from low income families are at forefront of priorities”  says Alvarez, as California and its schools start to think about reopening and rebuilding their communities.

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Photos by Charlein Gracia on Unsplash

 

CA Drivers Should Get 50% Refund During Lockdown

Drivers should get a 50% to 70% refund on their auto insurance premium for the duration of California’s shelter-in-place mandate, said state Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara April 22.

“We feel 50% to 70% percent is fair,” Lara told reporters at a briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services. “You should be getting more of a refund because, frankly, you’re not driving.”

On April 13 Lara ordered the state’s auto insurance companies to refund premiums to drivers at least for April, and possibly May, if California continues its stay-at-home order. His order, according to a statement released by his office, extended to six types of insurance: private passenger automobile, commercial automobile, workers’ compensation, commercial multiperil, commercial liability, medical malpractice, and any other insurance in which the risk of loss has fallen substantially because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With Californians driving fewer miles and many businesses closed due to the COVID-19 emergency, consumers need relief from premiums that no longer reflect their present-day risk of accident or loss,” Lara said as he introduced the order. “Today’s mandatory action will put money back in people’s pockets when they need it most.”

Some companies subsequently issued refunds or credits of 15% to 20%, but the insurance commissioner believes companies must go further: Risks have been dramatically reduced as the state’s roads remain far more untraveled.

California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara speaks during the Ethnic Media Services briefing.

Lara encouraged people who have lost their jobs to ask their auto insurance carriers to delay payments of premiums for up to two months. To get help with such calls, people can call his office — 1-800-927-4357 — where his staff speak multiple languages. His office also has asked insurance carriers to allow a 60-day grace period for paying premiums during California’s shelter-in-place mandate and even beyond, as the state re-opens its economy in stages.

Lara also has asked insurance companies to extend coverage to drivers making deliveries with their personal cars. Typically, personal auto insurance doesn’t cover those who use their cars for commercial purposes.

At the briefing, the state insurance commissioner — the son of undocumented parents — spoke about how immigrant workers benefit nation’s economy.

“The broader community is finally realizing how essential they are,” said Lara, noting undocumented workers’ contributions to food production, processing, delivery, warehouse work and similar services. “Leaders across the country are recognizing the value of immigrant workers. We have demonstrated in our state that the sky doesn’t fall when you incorporate everyone into our economy.”

Lara added that the United States must “get (undocumented workers) out of the shadows, incorporate them into our economy as quickly as possible, and get their kids into school. Our economy will grow by embracing our immigrant community, rather than scapegoating them.”

In California, one out of every 10 workers is undocumented, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. The Pew Research Center reports that the state’s labor force includes about 1.75 million undocumented immigrants, the largest number of whom live in Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties.

Although undocumented workers were denied the $1,200 federal stimulus check mandated by Congress’ first COVID-19 relief package, here in California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a $125 million relief package for undocumented workers April 16, the first of its kind in the nation.

Lara encouraged immigrant workers to apply for workers compensation if they become infected with COVID-19 on the job. He noted that the Trump administration’s public charge enforcement has scared away many immigrants from applying for benefits to which they are entitled. Workers also should advocate for personal protective equipment at their job sites, he said, and they should call his office if adequate protections aren’t provided.

Sunita Sohrabji is a contributor to Ethnic Media Services

image: EMS
Photo by Barna Bartis on Unsplash

Vulnerable Immigrants Get No Relief From COVID-19 Stimulus Package

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, signed into law last month, offers little relief to millions of vulnerable immigrants and low-wage workers, said panelists during a media briefing here April 9.

The CARES Act was signed into law by President Donald Trump March 27. It was intended to help millions of workers who have lost their jobs as shelter-in-place orders are implemented around the nation to mitigate the community spread of the novel coronavirus. The relief package also provides small businesses with the Paycheck Protection Program, allowing them to keep employees on payroll for up to eight weeks.

But millions of people — including the undocumented, and those who have no social security number — will receive no relief, said panelists at the briefing, organized by Ethnic Media Services and supported by the Blue Shield of California Foundation.

“The bills that have passed Congress so far have not provided enough economic support or health coverage for immigrants including those who have protection under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status and others,” said Kerri Talbot, director of federal advocacy at the Immigration Hub. “We’re really concerned that during this crisis people are not going to be able to access the health care that they need because they are not covered by emergency Medicaid,” she said, noting that denying aid to vulnerable immigrants puts all communities at risk.

Speaker Stacie Walton, MD-MPH (above) presenting on the 4/8 conference.

Individuals in “mixed households” — in which one or more persons are undocumented, but living with U.S. citizens, such as children or spouses — will not receive a one-time $1,200 relief check, said Talbot. “At the very least Congress needs to make sure that people who were born here should have access to cash payments and we believe undocumented individuals should as well. So many are are doing essential services,” she said. Immigration Hub is advocating for relief for undocumented people, including DACA and TPS recipients, to be included in the proposed fourth stimulus package.

Some safety nets have been beefed up, said Talbot, noting that more than $3 billion has been allocated for community health clinics, and $450 million has been allotted to food banks.

Sunita Lough, the Internal Revenue Services deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, said the one-time $1,200 stimulus package checks will be deposited into bank accounts on April 17, if the IRS has direct deposit information for the eligible recipient. Each individual with a social security number, who cannot be claimed as a dependent on anyone else’s tax return, is eligible for a stimulus check, she said.

Those who have not provided direct deposit information to the IRS will get a paper check instead, which will take much longer, said Lough. She advised taxpayers to go online to https://whereismyeconomicimpactpayment to fill in direct deposit information. The website, which goes live on April 17, will also allow users to track their stimulus checks and when they will receive them.

Lough cautioned against the many imposter scams that have emerged in the wake of the pandemic. “Do not give your private information to anyone who says I can get your check for you,” she stated.

If an individual owes back taxes, the IRS will not take out money from the stimulus check, clarified Lough.

Sebastian Sanchez, staff attorney of the employment rights project at the law firm Bet Tzedek, told reporters at the briefing that “gig workers” — contract workers, who now make up one-third of employees in several states — are eligible for unemployment benefits under the CARES Act. Normally, gig workers would not be eligible, because they had not left or been laid off by an employer, a mandate for unemployment benefits. Sanchez said that though they are eligible, there will be some delays, as states attempt to restructure their programs to meet new federal guidelines. The stimulus package also provides an additional benefit of $600 per week to unemployed workers, but this too has not yet been implemented, said Sanchez, adding that laid-off workers and employees furloughed without pay can expect to see those additional benefits by the week beginning April 13.

California workers can claim up to 38 weeks of unemployment through the state’s Employment Development Department.

State disability insurance may be available to undocumented workers, if they have been paying into the system by deductions on their paychecks, said Sanchez. Undocumented workers with fake social security numbers should not perjure themselves to get benefits, he said, advising instead that they file paper forms and leave that information blank to later clarify with the EDD.

Medical experts at the briefing discussed the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on African American and Latino communities. Pediatrician Stacie Walton said: “When COVID-19 came on the scene, I knew we were going to have disproportionate numbers of African Americans affected; they are already experiencing an epidemic of deaths from other diseases.”

Walton said that many social determinants of health, including an unconscious bias by health workers, make African Americans more vulnerable.

Walton’s statements were borne out by University of California physician Tung Nguyen. “Stark and alarming disparities are emerging in places are reporting covid-19 data by race,” he said. In Chicago 52% of the covid-19 cases are among black residents who make up only 30 percent of the City’s population.

Only 14% of Michigan’s population is black but 33% of the COVID-19 cases are African Americans, said Nguyen. In Louisiana, 70% of deaths statewide are among black residents, though they only make up 32 % of the state’s population, said Nguyen, noting that similar disparities are coming out of North Carolina, Washington DC and Milwaukee.

He advocated for all public health departments to track COVID-19 information by race and ethnicity and urged all readers of ethnic media to write their members of Congress to also such data. Nguyen also sternly advocated for a nationwide shelter-in-place order. “It is criminal that some governors are not doing this. They are killing people. It is bad leadership.”

Sunita Sohrabji is a Contributor at Ethnic Media Services

Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

 

We Are as Strong as Our Weakest Link

Coronavirus has overtaken how people are living their lives and is now controlling their psyche – as it should.

Reaction has ranged from indifference to paranoia. On one end of the spectrum, reckless students from University of Austin chartered a plane and flew to Mexico for spring break. 44 of them contracted coronavirus. On the other, fake news circulates, conspiracy theories go viral on WhatsApp, and people self-medicate with chloroquine, leading to paranoia.

What is fact and what is fiction?

Ethnic Media Services video briefing on Coronavirus

Ethnic Media Services held a video briefing last Friday, March 27th, with a panel of medical health professionals and advocates who are on the forefront of coronavirus research, work, and policy. The panelists addressed current information about the virus, safety measures, and effects on marginalized communities.

Dr. Daniel Turner-Lloveras, Harbor UCLA Medical Center, and Dr. Rishi Manchanda, Health Begins, spoke about overlooked populations and how their health will actually determine the efficacy of COVID-19. Turner-Lloveras pressed that we need to ensure access to public health for those that are undocumented or without health insurance. 43% of undocumented immigrants are without health insurance and are high risk populations if they contract the virus. 

Additionally, the pandemic has the potential “to disproportionately affect communities of color and immigrants,” Dr. Manchanda confirmed. He expanded that the reason for this is that these populations are at a “greater risk for exposure, have limited access to testing, and have severe complications.”

Dr. Rishi Manchanda briefing community media outlets

Many frontline staff for essential services belong to such communities and are at a higher risk of exposure because of their contact with the public. People on the frontline are unable to take time off due to the nature of their job and their dependency on the income; many continue to work while sick. Infection can spread from work to home and into these communities due to the density of housing.

Once exposed, vulnerable populations have limited access to testing for a multitude of reasons – fear of the healthcare system, lack of health insurance, inability to communicate their needs, and underlying racism. 

Infection from this virus can cause complications leading to chronic illness. The risk of developing chronic illness is higher for communities of color. Research shows that African American, Latinx, and Asian Americans have an increased probability of having chronic illness, over white populations; “Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders are at twice the risk of developing diabetes than the population overall.”

The nascence of a pandemic brings with it a pressing need to address the gaps within the structural framework of the public health system in America. If we are unable to effectively help disenfranchised communities, then we are ineffective in controlling the spread of the virus. 

“By caring for others, you’re caring for yourself,” Dr. Turner-Lloveras urges. 

Public health is not an economic drain or a privilege, it is a right. Dialogue around healthcare has long forgotten the systemic racism embedded in it; the wealth gap limits the accessibility to health care or good health care. NAACP studies have found connections between coronavirus and negative impacts on communities of color. 

But racism has moved beyond just health…

Asians and Asian Americans are experiencing racism at higher rates. Manju Kulkarni, Executive Director of Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, recounted a story of a child experiencing verbal and physical assault for being of Asian descent at a school in LA. Since then there have been around 100 reported cases a day of hate towards AAPIs on public transit, grocery stores, pharmacies. Kulkarni and her team at A3PCON are doing everything in their power to legislate and educate.

That said, it is our social responsibility to stay informed and updated. “Bad information is deadly,” states Dr. Tung Nguyen, University of California, San Francisco, as he gives quick rundown of what is known about COVID-19 thus far:

  • Currently there is no known vaccine or immunity from COVID-19. 
  • Vaccines are 12-18 months out, if the vaccine was approved for phase 1 testing today.
  • COVID-19 has exponential spread; if there are 200,000 cases this week, there will be 400,00 cases next week, 1 million cases the next week, and 4 million cases by the end of the month.
  • COVID-19 is an infection that leads to sepsis and those with sepsis require ventilators; this has led to a national shortage of ventilators.
  • There is a 1.5% – 4.5% death rate from COVID-19.

Information to keep you safe:

  • Have the healthiest person leave the house to get essentials.
  • Have a room to disinfect in before entering primary areas of the house.
  • COVID-19 is in the air for 3-6 hours, lasts 24 hours on cardboard, and on steel and metal for 72 hours.
  • Clean commonly touched objects – faucets, handles – with disinfectant.

If you are sick, call your hospital or provider in advance. Hospital resources are currently limited and telehealth measures have been put in place to assess patients from a distance. You can find more on the CDC website

Dr. Tung Nguyen and Dr. Daniel Turner-Lloveras, both gave one big takeaway – the best thing one can do during this pandemic is STAY AT HOME

Abide by the shelter in place regulations and continue to keep the dialogue about the pandemic open. The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us of the need for awareness, the importance of early containment, and the accessibility of health care to colored communities/immigrants. 

Srishti Prabha is the current Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Asian Diaspora Considers Their Identities

Bhutanese, Mongolians, Burmese, Nepalese among fastest-growing but invisible sector.

As the 2020 census begins in earnest, representatives of Nepalese, Burmese, Bhutanese and Mongolian immigrants joined census officials and community organizers at a briefing for Asian American media to discuss the high stakes of getting an accurate count for their communities.

Together with Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, these and other immigrants from Central, South and Southeast Asia represent the fastest growing sector of Asian immigrants to California over the last decade. Yet they are too new to have formed the civic organizations or media platforms to make their presence felt in the broader Asian American landscape.

Speakers agreed that being counted in the 2020 Census would change that.

Some 20% of Californians identified as Asian American-Pacific Islander in the 2010 census, said Hong Mei Pang of Chinese for Affirmative Action, which co hosted the March 5 briefing along with Ethnic Media Services.

“More immigrants come to the United States from Asia than from anywhere else,” Pang said. “But the Asian American community is not monolithic, and without an accurate count, these newer waves of Asian immigrants will be invisible.”

Stephanie Kim of United Way Bay Area echoed Pang’s point on the opening panel: “We have diverse needs requiring data and approaches customized to each community. If one of us is not counted, we all suffer from the undercount. If every one of us is counted, we all benefit.”

Linguistic and cultural isolation are challenges common to every recently arrived group. But speakers pointed to some immigrants’ experiences in their home countries that make them especially fearful of being counted.

Robin Gurung of Asian Refugees United, born and raised in Nepal, recalled how the Nepalese government used a census in the late 1980s to divide the country between native Nepalese and people of Bhutanese origin. He and his family were deported to Bhutan along with thousands of others. “So in the United States, there’s still a lot of worry and questions about the census – like what are the benefits, and what do we need to be careful about?”

“When they hear the word ‘census,’ it’s like a nightmare,” agreed Ganesh Subedi, of the Bhutanese Community Association of California. His community’s fear of government intrusion, he said, caused it to be vastly undercounted in the 2010 census.

Among its population of 45,000, he estimates, only 19,000 completed the census questionnaire.

In 2012, the Nepali Association of Northern California tried to collect census-type data on its own, the association’s former director Prem Pariyar said. But fear got the best of the community and the effort failed. Meanwhile, the community kept growing (http://facts.aapidata.com/nationaldata/) – by some 222% between 2010-2016, according to data compiled by Karthick Ramakrishnan of U.C. Riverside’s Center for Social Innovation.

“This is a great opportunity for us to establish our community,” Pariyar said. “We don’t want to lose our chance at being represented.”

Population growth of their communities was a common theme at the press briefing.

Myat Soe Mon, of One Myanmar community, spoke about ethnic cleansing in her country based on information the government gleaned under the pretext of conducting a census. “But here,” she said, “our population is growing. We have to keep moving forward.”

“The census data says we are just 32,000 Mongolians living in the U.S.,” noted Urtnasan Enkhbat, a student from Mongolia who wrote her senior thesis on Mongolians in the Bay Area. “We are a lot more. We have close to 10,000 just in the Bay Area.

Our numbers are growing rapidly, but it’s difficult to learn about us – we have no community centers or channels for communication.” She recently told a group of fellow Mongol immigrants, “We live in the U.S. But without data, we don’t exist in the U.S.”

Almost every speaker raised the issue of confidentiality as a further barrier in promoting the census.

Sonny Le, a refugee from Vietnam who has worked as a Partner Specialist for the Census Bureau since the 2000 Census, was quick to respond. Personal data collected by the census is forbidden to be disclosed to anyone for 72 years, even other government agencies and law enforcement, Le asserted. Penalties for violations run to a quarter million dollars and five years in prison. Nor has the data been breached.

Yet even among the Hmong, well-established now as the seventh largest population of Asian Americans, with a 13% increase between 2010 and 2016, the census is still an unknown.

“People my age had never heard about the census before,” said Tammy Vang, a Fresno-born daughter of Hmong refugees from Laos who works as a community organizer for Hmong Innovating Politics.

As the youngest speaker at the briefing, she also raised what for her is a deeply personal concern about the census — how to identify oneself in terms of gender.

“There is still a deep stigma attached to LGBTQ issues in the Hmong community,” she said, holding back tears. “The single binary choice on the census only makes it harder.”

Summing up the energy among attendees in the room, Gurung had the last word about the importance of the census: “We have to make ourselves visible. There’s nobody (else) out there who will.”


Originally published here.

Cannes Festival welcomes Young Indian Filmmaker’s film

Seven Rounds (2018), a short film scripted by young Indian filmmaker Akshun Abhimanyu from Los Angeles has been selected to premier at the Festival De Cannes in France in May 2018.

Inspired from true incidents, the movie brings into focus major issues faced by immigrants related to the travel ban, racism and the 2017 Kansas shooting.


“Racial discrimination is a major issue which is very much prevalent in our society. Even I have faced many such instances in the past two years and the Kansas shooting was really an eye-opener. Having a beard myself, I could resonate with the angst and pain faced by many. It made me realize that subliminal racism has slowly become a grave concern that needs to be addressed,” opined Akshun. “Being an actor, I was always on a hunt to play a role that has a strong motive and this storyline helped me in creating such a character to which I could relate to,” he adds.

“It’s really overwhelming to receive such an honor. I got very lucky to get acquainted with such great filmmakers and like-minded friends, who made the journey really special,” said Akshun Abhi, who is at Cannes from May 8 -19, 2018.  Akshun Abhimanyu is the writer and lead actor of the film, along with co-actors Abhay Walia, Kevin Mukherjea, Nakia Secrest, Karl J. Morris, Dennis Getmanski, and Denis Garr. The short is directed by George Saviddis, produced by Three Flames Productions and the screenplay is by Karthik Menon.

After spreading his message of love and mutual global acceptance, Akshun aims to take the ‘seven rounds’ to a bigger platform after the festival run, either as a feature or docu-series.

 

Akshun comes from a family that has a strong background in science. His father, Dr Alok Adholeya, was a microbiologist and mother, Dr Radhika Adholeya, a gynecologist. Akshun felt drawn towards the field of science. He completed his bachelors in biotechnology and also did training as a researcher in Germany.

“My mother always used to make these statements that being known as ‘a scientist who is a dancer is really cool’ but a ‘dancer who knows science, won’t be that cool’. Hence, I always had in mind to complete my graduation in Science,” stated Akshun.

It was his strong inclination towards art that made him realize his dream and move to LA to study at the New York Film Academy. “Though I opted to study science, I was always a regular performer who could find happiness in the expression of art. Even while studying Biotechnology in Germany, I worked part time at a theater and taught dancing to students.”

Eventually, he arrived at a cross-road. “There was always this consistent attraction towards the stage and when there came a point where I could pursue only one amongst the two, and I opted for arts. I decided to take the indirect approach of creating a change in the society through strong message-driven movies rather than a direct approach through developments in science. It was then that I realized the inherent value of art as a tool that can influence society,” stated Akshun, who has worked in nearly 14 short films and 9 commercials so far. 

The actor-cum-dancer considers his family as his greatest strength, who stood by him all the time and motivated him to pursue his dreams. “I was always a hyperactive and notorious kid and it’s my family, especially my sister Ananaya Alok, who kept me grounded and helped me in realizing my passion towards art,” he added.

Focused on creating a platform for artists to collaborate, the budding filmmaker also plans to eventually produce and create his own films in the future. Currently studying Entertainment business and Management at UCLA extension, he has also scripted two stories based on sexual abuse and harassment and bullying at college for upcoming projects. Not just in Hollywood, he also aspires to make ‘new-age’ movies in India that center around social issues.

 

Seven Rounds (2018). Director: George Saviddis. Writers: Akshun Abhimanyu (Creator) and Karthik Menon (Screenplay). Lead Actor: Akshun Abhimanyu. Co Actor: Abhay Walia. Cast: Kevin Mukherjea, Nakia Secrest, Karl J. Morris, Dennis Getmanski, Denis Garr. Producers: Miranda Guzman, Trevor Doyle (Three Flames Productions).

 

 

Writing has been my passion and I love expressing my thoughts in various forms of writing including articles, stories, and poems. I come with nearly a decade’s experience in the field of journalism, exploring and writing about people, issues, and community stories for many leading media publications in India. Living in Colorado for two years gave me the opportunity to experience new culture and write about an entirely different community, art, and lifestyle for a leading publication in Denver, Colorado. Now, it’s time to explore California and would love to write more about the people and community — Suchithra Pillai.

 

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.”