Call for Racial, Economic and Health Equity Through Advocacy and Organizing

April 13, 2020

It was only three months ago that we convened the Future of Immigrants in Los Angeles County Summit which brought together over 300 leaders from the immigrant rights movement, representatives from the public sector, nonprofits, academia, elected officials and philanthropists. Our goal was to advance an equitable and immigrant-inclusive vision for Los Angeles. Little did we know what laid ahead of us and how the seeds planted that day now have the potential to sprout collective action and help protect one of the most vulnerable populations facing the COVID-19 crisis in Los Angeles — immigrants.

Immigrant Workers Are Essential to Our Economy, Now More Than Ever
Our immigrant neighbors have deep roots in Los Angeles County. According to the State of Immigrants in Los Angeles (SOILA) report nearly 70 percent of legal permanent residents (LPR) and undocumented Angelenos have been in the U.S. for more than a decade. These long-term residents pay taxes, contribute to our local economy and, along with immigrants who have naturalized and become U.S. citizens, make-up 44% of our workforce. They are not a special interest – they are a critical part of the Los Angeles labor market.

The COVID-19 crisis has opened the door for us to begin to see the value and contributions of workers who used to be invisible. More than half of workers in construction, agriculture, service industry, manufacturing and wholesale trade are foreign-born. Unlike workers in other industries, many of these immigrant workers do not have the ability to work from home and struggle to make ends meet living pay-check-to-pay-check. Other immigrant workers are forced to work in the shadows because of their immigration status. Imagine a street vendor or a day labor without a legal right to work whose business dries up or demand for work evaporates, and has no access to unemployment assistance or alternative means of income. What does his or her future look like? How will s/he and her/his family recover from their loss?

Front line workers are asked to risk exposure to COVID-19 in order to make a living and do the work that our local government says is essential. Immigrants share this struggle with the African American community who are disproportionately affected by this crisis as well. The frustrating irony is those among us who are in the most need of good quality healthcare often do not have it, because of income and immigration status. Their vulnerability makes all our communities vulnerable – and we can and should do better by them and by ourselves. As Manuel Pastor reminds us in a piece on “solidarity economics”: “Caring for others . . . both reflects our better angels and provides better outcomes for society at large. What’s true in a crisis is also true in the long haul: A deep commitment to mutuality and the common good is the right thing to do for both public and economic health.”

Long Term Recovery Means Advocacy and Organizing
In order to advance an equitable and immigrant-inclusive recovery effort that works for all of us, we must uplift the voices and needs of those disproportionately impacted by legacies of systemic inequities as a result of racism and anti-immigrant bias—the most vulnerable in this crisis. Our immediate and long-term response in this crisis must center on ensuring all Angelenos can have access to the resources they need to stay healthy and have economic security for themselves and their families.

The exclusion of over 900,000 undocumented Angelenos, who are the bedrock of our economy, from federal aid and relief must be addressed. Furthermore, we must consider how this exclusion will impact mixed status families taking into consideration that 1 in 4 children in Los Angeles County have at least one foreign born parent. Our state and local governments, as well as philanthropy, must be inclusive when making funding, budgetary and policy decisions within the context of COVID-19 pandemic response. State leaders, who have advanced more inclusive policies for our state, can take important steps towards protecting immigrant families during this crisis:

1. Expand access to safety-net programs for all currently ineligible low-income immigrants: health and nutrition programs including Medi-Cal and the California Food Assistance Program (CFAP); California Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Young Child Tax Credit to ITIN filers, applying eligibility retroactively for the 2019-20 fiscal year; and Cash Assistance for Immigrants (CAPI).

2. Establish a direct relief fund to provide cash assistance to immigrant Californians who are ineligible for federal aid. Our philanthropic organizations have already mobilized millions of dollars in emergency funding, including funding to support community organizations serving impacted immigrants and individual cash assistance programs for extremely vulnerable workers (e.g., day laborers, domestic workers, street vendors, restaurant and hospitality workers, farmworkers, etc.). We are also organizing a statewide direct relief fund and would welcome coordinating with the state.

3. Ensure that all immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, have access to COVID-19 information, testing and treatment as part of the state’s effort to flatten the curve and address impact. This includes multilingual health services and emergency announcements and free testing at mobile units in hard-to-reach communities.

4. Call for the release of immigrants in detention, halt the expansion of all immigration detentions, and suspend the transfer of individuals from California’s custody to ICE. These measures would support the state’s efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on vulnerable communities.

5. Strengthen the ONE California immigration legal assistance programs. With job losses and reduced hours due to the pandemic, more low-income immigrant workers will need free and low-cost legal services.

Our COVID-19 LA County Respond Fund immigration grants went to nonprofits that are centered on the needs and voices of low-wage, immigrant workers, (particularly those most vulnerable due to federal immigration status) to help them access food, services and other unemployment resources. But we are also funding the organizing and advocacy needs of our immigrant led and focused nonprofits like Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights, Inclusive Action for the City and Pilipino Worker Center of Southern California because long lasting change will only come when we change our policies and our laws. We are all only as safe as those members of our community who are most at risk. This means working together to demand that local and state governments adopt policies that can protect marginalized communities and individuals. This pandemic does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity or citizenship status. By protecting the most vulnerable we are protecting everyone.

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