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California To Send Relief To Undocumented Workers, But Is It Enough?

A closed sign at the Currant American Brasserie in downtown San Diego on March 26, 2020. The cafe is one of many businesses that had to close down because of the COVD-19 pandemic.
Andi Dukleth
A closed sign at the Currant American Brasserie in downtown San Diego on March 26, 2020. The cafe is one of many businesses that had to close down because of the COVD-19 pandemic.

As federal stimulus checks hit the bank accounts of millions of Americans this week, one group of mostly essential workers have been left out — undocumented workers.

On Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a plan to use a mix of taxpayer money and charitable contributions to give 150,000 adults between $500 and $1,000 each during the coronavirus outbreak. There are an estimated 2 million undocumented people living in California.

"In the areas that are so essential to meeting the needs of tens of millions of Californians today. In the health care sector, in the agriculture and food sector, in the manufacturing and logistics sector and in the construction sector," Newsom said.

Dr. Kyra Greene is the executive director of the Center on Policy Initiatives, which advocates for working families in the San Diego region. She says janitorial, hotel, and retail workers have all been hit hard by layoffs or a massive reduction in hours during the pandemic, with people both having to work in dangerous conditions or not working at all.

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Video: California To Send Relief To Undocumented Workers, But Is It Enough?

“Many of these jobs were already at the poverty level or just above, so people are not going to be able to make ends meet on half or three-quarters of their salary,” Greene said.

Undocumented workers cannot apply for unemployment insurance, even if they’ve been paying taxes, leaving them without resources during this burgeoning recession.

Martha Orozco lives in North Park. She’s undocumented and works cleaning houses across the city, after years of working at a restaurant. She’s paid taxes in the U.S. for over a decade.

She thinks that a $500 dollar one-time payment from the state isn’t nearly enough to help undocumented workers.

“It’s very little. We pay the same taxes and work just as hard, why aren’t we treated the same?,” she asked KPBS in Spanish. “It seems like so little, and very discriminatory.”

She’s worried that even when the state figures out how to dispense the payments to workers, many won’t sign up for it, out of fear of having their identities shared with federal immigration authorities.

So Martha’s been volunteering at the Employee Rights Center in City Heights, helping to hand out food and provide assistance to other undocumented workers, helping relief get to them as quickly and directly as possible.

California To Send Relief To Undocumented Workers, But Is It Enough?
Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.