New York set aside $2.1 billion for workers ineligible for government benefits. Now immigration activists are fighting to ensure an inclusive rollout.

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Originally published by The NY Times

PHOENIX – Maxima Guerrero had seen it before: young people gathering in anger and frustration, not waiting for the guidance of major organizations or longtime political leaders.

A decade ago, she was in downtown Phoenix when protests broke out after the Arizona legislature approved what would become known as the show me your papers law. The bill, critics said, effectively enshrined racial profiling – anyone law enforcement deemed suspicious could be stopped and asked for proof of citizenship.

So much has changed since then. The law was eventually overturned. Ms. Guerrero, now 30, received legal status through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. She worked for the Democratic challenger who ousted the Republican Sheriff Joe Arpaio, once the most influential anti-immigration leader in the state.

This much has not. Any undocumented immigrant arrested in Maricopa County, where Mr. Arpaio served, is flagged to federal immigration authorities.

And it was made clear one night at a Black Lives Matter protest on the last day of May how precarious Ms. Guerrero’s place in this country really is. Her story is at once a window into two protest movements in their early stages, and a reminder of the uneven pace of movement politics. Despite all the victories immigrant rights activists have claimed in recent years, they are far from achieving their version of justice they are fighting for.

For all their influence in progressive circles, many say that elected Democrats view their demands with skepticism or choose to ignore them. And in Arizona, where the number of Covid-19 cases continues to climb, immigrant activists are fighting many issues at once, as Latinos are disproportionately impacted by the virus.

When a racially diverse crowd of hundreds began marching against police brutality in downtown Phoenix after Memorial Day, Ms. Guerrero and a friend drove around downtown. Much of what they saw seemed orderly and calm, but she jotted down notes for record keeping, to share with other activists.

After midnight, the mood shifted and, she said, many officers seemed eager to shut down the demonstrations. They were starting to peter out anyway and by 2 a.m., Ms. Guerrero was ready to head home.

Just as she and her friend turned the car to drive back toward the freeway, a police squad car penned them in, making it impossible to leave. (The police have used the tactic, known as kettling, frequently during Black Lives Matter protests.) An officer demanded that Ms. Guerrero, sitting in the passenger seat, get out of the car with her hands up. Before she did so, she sent a worried voice message to a friend: Hey, I’m about to be arrested, she said simply. Her friends would understand the fear and implication – without citizenship, an arrest can lead to deportation.

Along with 113 other protesters that night, she was sent to the Fourth Avenue Jail, which is run by Paul Penzone, the Democratic Sheriff she worked to elect. More than three years into his tenure, an important policy remained unchanged: Immigration and Customs Enforcement would know about her arrest within hours.

Officers told her she would be taken the Eloy Detention Center, an hour south.

Through her work, she said, she was aware that some undocumented immigrants had been in the detention center for at least two months after an arrest, without a court hearing.

For me, it was like, if I am in this place, there’s no certain timeline when I will see daylight, she said.

For much of the night, Ms. Guerrero was terrified, thinking about the conditions of detention centers she had seen and heard about, particularly amid the pandemic.

I’ve been looking at these numbers and the conditions on the inside for months, so it was also just scary, she said.

She watched as others who had been arrested filed out of the jail, grimacing each time she heard the metal doors open and shut, open and shut, feeling like she was watching her own chance at freedom diminish each time.

By the time she was transferred to immigration authorities, an officer there told her she, too, would be let out that morning. She had no idea that hundreds of calls and texts had been made on her behalf. And still, her lawyer was skeptical.

He’s like, are you serious? Are you sure they aren’t lying to you, she recalled.

In the last decade, Ms. Guerrero has become a leading figure in Phoenix, in part through her work with Puente, a migrant rights organization based there. Her lawyer knew that morning what she did not: More than 100 people were waiting for her outside.

Still, the saga was far from over. An electronic monitor had been placed around her left ankle. Officially charged with a misdemeanor, her case was now at the start of deportation proceedings.

In the days and weeks afterward, Ms. Guerrero thought often about the work she had done since first becoming involved in the immigrant-rights protests of 2010. After the show-me-your-papers legislation was overturned, Ms. Guerrero went on to work on the campaign to recall Russell Pearce, the Republican state senator who had been the lead proponent of the legislation. Twice, she worked for the Democratic candidates trying to defeat Mr. Arpaio.

Like other DACA recipients, Ms. Guerrero arrived with her parents from Mexico as a young child. After growing up attending Phoenix public schools, she graduated from high school without many options for employment or financial aid if she wanted to continue her education. But after receiving the deferred action status, she enrolled at Arizona State University, working on political campaigns, in schools and for nonprofit organizations. She also created a small business selling fitness apparel.

In many ways, Ms. Guerrero’s experience shows how much of Arizona’s political shift in the last decade have been prodded and provoked by people who cannot themselves vote – young undocumented immigrants who have forcefully pushed for change and are still pushing. They want to see efforts to defund the police coupled with demands to abolish I.C.E.

Sin papeles, sin miedo, is a chant that rings out often during immigration protests – no papers, no fear. But there is reason to be fearful. Under a longstanding agreement between the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department and federal immigration authorities, anyone arrested who is also an undocumented immigrant is immediately flagged. So while Ms. Guerrero watched others leave the jail, she was instead greeted by immigration officers.

To Ms. Guerrero, it was another sign of the limits of electing moderate Democrats.

It’s been four years since he was elected, and I.C.E. is still here, she said.

There’s this dilemma and for the longest time it’s been like, well, at least he’s not as bad, she said. Not being as bad as the other candidate shouldn’t be enough right now.

But four years ago, it did seem like enough. She knocked on thousands of doors to help elect Mr. Penzone, a Democrat, as Maricopa County Sheriff. Mr. Arpaio’s defeat seemed like a thin ray of light to her as Mr. Trump ascended to the White House.

We think of it as a victory, she said. But now I’m fighting a battle to not be defeated by the same person that I made room for to win.

Sheriff Penzone said in an interview that he tries to run his office with as little partisanship as possible and defended the policy of allowing immigration agents to screen anyone booked in the county jail, saying that it reflected similar cooperation with other federal law enforcement agencies.

Everyone is expecting me to choose a side, but as law enforcement we don’t have the freedom or subjectivity to decide which or how every law is enforced, he said. Instead of focusing on the policy in the jail, he said, immigration activists should focus on state and federal laws.

As she looks to this year’s election, Ms. Guerrero, like other activists, is eager to press for more.

We’ve built the electorate to actually get people in office, she said. What does it mean to hold them accountable? We need to maintain pressure to actually push them, not just say, we’re Democrats, we’re better.

When the Supreme Court upheld DACA last month, Ms. Guerrero arrived at a celebratory news conference with her ankle bracelet visible. Several hours later, Mr. Penzone marked the decision by sending a fund-raising email for his re-election campaign.

In order to build a stronger community and a better future, we must demand thoughtful and compassionate immigration reform, he wrote.

The fight that DACA children are still fighting is absurd, he added in an interview.

Ms. Guerrero did have other elected officials in her corner. After the Arizona Legislature approved Senate Bill 1070 10 years ago, a massive outcry led to weeks of protests led by immigration activists. A few who have now gone on to elected office, including to the City Council and State Senate, wrote letters, as did dozens of other local leaders, urging immigration officers to release her.

Laura Pastor, a member of the Phoenix City Council, wrote that Ms. Guerrero exemplifies the values and good moral character that we strive to embody as Americans.

The letters helped her secure her release. And no criminal charges were ever pursued.

If Maxima wasn’t Maxima she’s still sitting in a detention, said Raymond Ybarra Maldonado, her lawyer, who has worked in immigration for decades. There’s no question her notoriety helped her and helped the others.

On June 23, Ms. Guerrero was called back to the local immigration office, where officers released her ankle bracelet. Somewhat relieved, but mostly still stunned, she returned to the home she purchased in 2016.


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Originally published by LA Times

From the Los Angeles Times, Asian Enough is a podcast about being Asian American – the joys, the complications and everything else in between. In each episode, hosts Jen Yamato and Frank Shyong of The Times invite celebrity guests to share their personal stories and unpack identity on their own terms.

They explore the vast diaspora across cultures, backgrounds and generations, share Bad Asian Confessions, and try to expand the ways in which being Asian American is defined. The first and second episodes will premiere on March 17 everywhere podcasts are available, with new episodes dropping every Tuesday.

The team behind our Asian Enough podcast includes reporters and hosts Jen Yamato and Frank Shyong, senior producers Liyna Anwar and Rina Palta, and executive producer Abbie Fentress Swanson. Our original music was composed by Andrew Eapen. Our engineer is Mike Heflin. Special thanks to Julia Turner, Paige Hymson, Camila Victoriano, Clint Schaff, Lora Victorio, Sameea Kamal, Brittany Hite, Mary Kate Metivier, Alison Farias, Robert Meeks, JR Lizarraga, Erica Varela, Katy Kirton, Shenho Hshieh, Reed Johnson, Shelby Grad, Geoff Berkshire and our photographers at the L.A. Times.

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Originally published by The Daily Beast

President Donald Trump may have shown diminishing concern for the threat posed to the American public by the novel coronavirus in recent weeks, but his administration and allies are increasingly pointing to the pandemic as a justification for further longstanding policy goals on immigration.

For months, the Trump administration has utilized the pandemic as a pretext for raising the barriers for entry into the country, effectively halting most immigration into the United States for the duration of the crisis, refusing to issue COVID-19 guidances for those still stuck in the immigration legal system, and using a quarantine law from the late 19th century as a mechanism to deport nearly all asylum-seekers at the U.S. southern border.

Now, the president’s allies are pushing legislation that would punish states for offering assistance to undocumented immigrants and their families struggling to make ends meet as the pandemic ravages the American economy.

Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and longstanding immigration hawk, this week introduced the No Bailouts for Illegal Aliens Act, which would strip CARES Act funds from any state or city that seeks to provide economic relief for undocumented immigrants.

We shouldn’t be spending hard-earned taxpayer dollars on illegal immigrants at a time when 35 million Americans are out of work, Cotton said in a release accompanying the bill’s introduction. A similar measure was introduced by Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) in the House. If we are going to be giving relief checks to those people who are out of work, we need to focus on American citizens, not illegal immigrants.

Cotton, who said that the CARES Act was intended to help workers affected by the China Virus pandemic, has accused various states and cities of using federal funds to give a handout to those who broke our immigration laws.

The senator, whose office did not respond to a request for comment about the proposed bill, has specifically cited Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s creation of a program providing prepaid debit cards for low-income city residents and those whose incomes have dropped by at least 50 percent, regardless of their immigration status. California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, has also announced $75 million in state disaster relief funds intended to help undocumented immigrants who are ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits and CARES Act funds due to their immigration status. Undocumented immigrants make up as many as one in ten workers in the state.

California is the most diverse state in the nation, Newsom said in a statement provided to The Daily Beast. Our diversity makes us stronger and more resilient. Every Californian, including our undocumented neighbors and friends, should know that California is here to support them during this crisis. We are all in this together.

The state was the first to offer aid to undocumented immigrants in the midst of the crisis-in the form of a one-time grant of $500 per person or $1,000 per household, with an addition $50 million provided by non-government partners-but proposals seeking to provide limited assistance for undocumented people are being enacted or are under consideration across the country, including in Oregon, Washington and New York City. Similar measures are being additionally considered in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Although undocumented immigrants-and in some cases, their U.S. citizen spouses-are already barred from obtaining federal coronavirus aid under the CARES Act, Cotton describes the use of state funds as aid for undocumented people as being de facto subsidized by the federal stimulus intended to save the economy.

Immigrant rights advocates told The Daily Beast that such efforts, combined with other attempts by the administration to utilize the crisis against undocumented people, are targeting groups that are already particularly susceptible to the pandemic and the accompanying economic disaster.

This bill only seeks to scapegoat and discriminate against immigrant communities, said Rebecca Lightsey, executive director of American Gateways, an immigrant legal services organization. Punishing state and local governments for recognizing and giving much needed aid to their most vulnerable community members harms all of us in the U.S.

Demagoguing ‘sanctuary cities’ is clearly political red meat for the president’s base, but it is also unconstitutional, said Kim Haddow, executive director of Local Solutions Support Center, a group that works to defend local democracy against federal interference. Whatever one thinks about cities that choose to protect their immigrant residents, the Constitution does not give the president the power to bully or threaten these states into bending to his will.

Others told The Daily Beast that such legislation could do even further damage to the nation’s economy by taking money out of the hands of immigrants in essential fields of work.

At a time of great suffering and confusion in the country due to this administration’s chaotic handling of the COVID-19 crisis, it seems that Sen. Cotton wants to worsen the situation by targeting immigrant families who are part of our essential workforce, working in hospitals, farms, restaurants, and manufacturing, said Cynthia Buiza, executive director of California Immigrant Policy Center. This is a time to create solutions that includes everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign told The Daily Beast that Cotton’s proposal is a distraction from the Trump administration’s maladroit response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed more than 100,000 American lives.

We wish Tom Cotton could muster a hint of outrage about how Main Street businesses and their workers keeping getting the door slammed in their face so that Trump campaign donors at big corporations can enjoy massive giveaways with taxpayer-provided relief funds, said Andrew Bates, the Biden campaign’s director of rapid response, also noting Trump’s historic negligence in pandemic preparedness and disastrous decision to trust early assurances from the Chinese government that the virus had been largely contained.

But instead of being a responsible public servant and putting all his energies into saving American lives, Bates said, he’s busy playing his usual games and trying to generate a cynical distraction.

Undocumented immigrants are often at a higher risk for complications from COVID-19 due issues like a lack of access to healthcare, as well as work in essential industries like agriculture, parcel delivery and food processing that demand crowded working conditions and frequent contact with strangers. Fear of potential deportation has also prevented undocumented immigrants from seeking non-financial forms of assistance during the coronavirus crisis, including protection against increasing rates of domestic violence during quarantine.

Immigrant survivors of violence… are among those who would be hurt most by this legislation and its attempt to strong-arm states into excluding undocumented immigrants from relief, said Jeanne Smoot, senior counsel for policy and strategy at Tahirih Justice Center, a non-profit that seeks to increase protections for immigrant women and girls. Given that many domestic violence agencies and shelters are also struggling to meet heightened demands for their services, immigrant survivors and their children may be forced back into violent homes and into dangerous reliance on abusers for shelter, food, and other basic needs.

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Originally published by LA Times

Locked out of state unemployment benefits, hundreds of thousands of out-of-work immigrants are facing additional hurdles to tap into a new California program offering a $500 one-time payment during the COVID-19 pandemic to those without legal status.

Struggling to pay living expenses, immigrant workers are finding jammed phone lines and overwhelmed staff at the nonprofits tasked with distributing the funds as they compete for a dwindling pot of money that state officials acknowledge isn’t enough to help all who need it.

Efforts to rally private contributions to supplement the $75 million in taxpayer money set aside for the program by Gov. Gavin Newsom have so far fallen short of meeting a $50-million goal.

Now, amid the problems, a group of legislators including state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) has called for an expansion of the program to better address the needs of underemployed and unemployed immigrants, proposing an additional $400 per week for eight weeks.

Phone lines and websites across the state crashed due to the volume of calls and inquiries, Durazo said Tuesday, the second day of the program. These undocumented residents, who comprise as much as 10% of the state workforce, are hurting for any type of assistance, being that they do not qualify for state unemployment or federal stimulus money.

A dozen California nonprofits, including the Los Angeles-based Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights and Central American Resource Center, were selected by state officials in the last month to administer the program. With many immigrants concerned about their personal information ending up with federal immigration authorities, the state is sending the money through nonprofits to keep the identities of recipients confidential – not even sharing them with the state.

The state website that provides information on the program, including the names of nonprofits accepting applications, crashed and was unavailable for two and a half hours Monday morning, said Scott Murray, a spokesman for the state Department of Social Services.

He noted that despite the initial technical challenges, more than 15,000 applications have been opened statewide by late Thursday.


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Originally published by VOX

House Democrats voted in favor of offering stimulus payments to unauthorized immigrants Friday night, prevailing over Republican efforts to strike the provision from the latest $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill.

The HEROES Act, which passed the House on Friday, would make taxpaying immigrants and their families eligible for federal stimulus funds regardless of their legal status. Under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act signed in late March, only immigrants with Social Security Numbers – and who fulfilled certain residency requirements – were able to receive the payments, meaning unauthorized immigrants and many temporary visa holders were excluded.

Republicans are not convinced that another aid package is warranted after the CARES Act, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying he hasn’t yet felt the urgency of acting immediately on further legislation.

And Republicans in the House argued emphatically against the HEROES Act’s provision offering immigrants stimulus payments, with Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia calling it a poison pill. The Republican position was that relief funds should be dedicated to US citizens only. Despite being joined in their opposition by 13 Democrats, however, Republicans failed to block the provision in a 198-209 vote. But it isn’t likely to survive the Republican-led Senate, where McConnell has been explicit in his objection to the plan.

Another round of checks for illegal immigrants. Can you believe it? McConnell said in a floor speech May 14. We forgot to have the Treasury Department send money to people here illegally. My goodness, what an oversight. Thank goodness Democrats are on the case.

Democrats, on the other hand, have asserted that failing to offer financial aid to many immigrant families is an injustice that must be rectified, especially as the public has come to rely on immigrants to provide essential services during the current crisis. For instance, unauthorized immigrants make up about a quarter of farmworkers and 8 percent of the service sector and production workers.

They pay taxes, contribute to our economy, and in many cases are fighting on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in a call with reporters May 1.

Why certain immigrants have been barred from stimulus relief

The new bill would retroactively make unauthorized immigrants and their families eligible for the first round of stimulus checks, which the government started sending out in April, as well as a proposed second round of checks, which would amount to up to $1,200 for each tax filer and each of their dependents, depending on household income. These provisions are meant to correct for language in the CARES Act that left millions of people – some of them US citizens – without access to stimulus funds.

The CARES Act gave most taxpayers up to $1,200 – along with $500 for each of their children under the age of 17. But immigrants without Social Security numbers, and who have not lived in the US long enough (usually five years) to file taxes as residents, weren’t eligible for the CARES Act’s stimulus checks.

The CARES Act also excludes those in households with people of mixed-immigration status, where some tax filers or their children may use what’s called an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). The IRS issues ITINs to unauthorized immigrants, as well as certain legal immigrants so they can pay taxes, even though they don’t have Social Security numbers. If anyone in the household uses an ITIN – either a spouse or a dependent child – no one in the household qualifies for the stimulus checks unless one spouse served in the military in 2019.

This provision has led immigrant advocacy groups to challenge the CARES Act on the basis that it unlawfully discriminates against US citizens who have unauthorized immigrant family members.

The refusal to distribute this benefit to US citizen children undermines the CARES Act’s goals of providing assistance to Americans in need, frustrates the Act’s efforts to jumpstart the economy, and punishes citizen children for their parents’ status – punishment that is particularly nonsensical given that undocumented immigrants, collectively, pay billions of dollars each year in taxes, Mary McCord, legal director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, said in a statement.

An estimated 16.7 million people live in mixed-status households nationwide, including 8.2 million US-born or naturalized citizens.

This number also includes those with deportation protections under the Obama-era DACA program, children and young adults whose parents often don’t have legal status. They’re left wondering how they can help support their families so that their parents don’t have to go to work, where they risk getting sick, and how they can help cover the costs of their parents’ medical care should they need it, Sanaa Abrar, advocacy director at the immigrant advocacy group United We Dream, told Vox.

With the national health crisis and what’s becoming a national unemployment crisis, folks are concerned about how they’re not only going to stay healthy and safe but also how they’re going to keep their jobs and how they’re going to find means of financial support, she said.

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Originally published by LA Times

Tony Ruiz doesn’t know where he’s going to sleep tonight.

Two months ago, the 31-year-old had a steady job as a line cook at the San Francisco Saloon, the long-standing bar and grill on Pico Boulevard, and was renting a room in a home near the West L.A. neighborhood where he grew up. When he wasn’t working, he dreamed of someday opening his own restaurant.

Now, with his job lost to the coronavirus outbreak and his savings eroded, Ruiz is in crisis mode.

He got evicted from the home he was living in last week over a dispute involving missed rent (Ruiz moved out but says he’s looking for legal aid to fight the eviction). Most of his personal belongings were recently locked up in storage. He’s spent the past several nights drifting between friends’ houses, sleeping on couches, scanning Craigslist job boards daily for work and trying not to fall into despair.

Ruiz has no access to unemployment benefits, or federal, state or city emergency relief funds, because he is undocumented.

His parents brought him to the U.S. from Oaxaca, Mexico, when he was a year old. Every attempt to get a permanent resident card over the years has failed, he said.

It feels like I’m fighting for my life with my hands tied behind my back, he said, describing his life during the age of coronavirus.

Tony Ruiz in the Public Storage unit where his personal belongings were hastily stored last month.

Tony Ruiz in the Public Storage unit where his personal belongings were hastily stored last month.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

The American restaurant industry hinges on the labor of undocumented workers like Ruiz. The Pew Research Center estimates that about 10% of the industry workforce, or more than a million U.S. restaurant workers, are undocumented; many work in low-pay back-of-house jobs without worker protections.

The coronavirus crisis has brought into sharp focus the structural disparity of an industry that relies on such workers to make restaurants profitable. Now the workers who have been making restaurants run efficiently – and who contribute millions in payroll and unemployment taxes every year – have been left to fend for themselves.

Oscar, who is undocumented and requested his surname be withheld for privacy, is another restaurant worker reeling from the sudden loss of income.

He was juggling two restaurant jobs before the shutdown. He worked 70 hours a week on average, splitting the hours between a popular downtown cocktail bar and a restaurant-bar in West Hollywood.

The 46-year-old Oaxaca native came to the U.S. two decades ago. He fell into restaurant work and liked the hustle and speed it required. Without papers, it was the best work he could find.

He has washed dishes at Italian restaurants in Beverly Hills, bused tables at a Mexican restaurant near MacArthur Park and worked as a barback and kitchen assistant at a glitzy downtown nightclub.

Restaurant work is energizing, he says, but it can be deeply demoralizing.

A restaurant worker without papers has to work twice as hard. You have to constantly say: ‘I’ll do it.’ The day someone is out sick, you have to cover. You can’t get sick. You can’t call out. It’s a hard road to walk, he said.

Oscar has worked for employers who have taken advantage of workers’ status, he said. There was the owner of an Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills who yelled and threatened undocumented employees. (He made men cry, he said.) Then there were the owners of the Mexican restaurant near MacArthur Park who shuttered the dining room abruptly, leaving the largely undocumented staff without explanation or back pay.

Tony Ruiz gathers a few of his belongings, including a personal journal, at Public Storage.

Tony Ruiz gathers a few of his belongings, including a personal journal, at Public Storage on May 13 in Los Angeles.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

They just closed up. They went out of business and never paid us, he said.

His two most recent employers were kinder, but he suspects he made less than many of his coworkers. He felt treated differently too.

I’ve always made less than my coworkers with papers. You can sense when you are getting paid less than other people. When you work many more hours in a week but your paycheck is smaller, he said.

If you stand still for a second, someone always needs something right away. The back-of-house staff is not allowed to take long, chatty paid breaks like the other workers.

Like many undocumented workers, Oscar files his taxes every year using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.

It’s the right thing to do, he said, and he hopes someday it helps him gain permanent resident status.

He regrets paying his taxes early this year.

I did my taxes a few weeks before the pandemic reached us and I was hit with a $1,000 tax bill. If I had known, I wouldn’t have filed, he said.

It seems unjust that I’m charged taxes, but when I need help, there is none, he said.

There is despair in not knowing what’s going to happen and watching your money disappear. Nobody can help. There’s no solution in sight. Maybe for people with papers there’s hope. But for somebody without papers, there is no light at the end of the tunnel – only darkness, he said.

For Ruiz, the shutdown has opened up old wounds related to his complicated bicultural identity and place in the world.

I only know my home state of Oaxaca through pictures and TV shows and documentaries. I feel ashamed not to know more about my own people, he said.

But I went to kindergarten, elementary school, to high school on the Westside. I know more about football than soccer. I bleed blue for the damn Dodgers, you know?

He was drawn to restaurant work in part by the work of Anthony Bourdain, who once described the professional kitchen as a place for people for whom something in their lives has gone terribly wrong.

It’s just a bunch of miscreants, criminals and pirates that work in the kitchen, Ruiz said with a laugh.

Some of the people I’ve met there have become family. They see you at your worst and they see you at your best.

Ruiz has been surviving with help from the friends he’s made working in restaurants, including his former coworker Damian Diaz, who now runs the Boyle Heights-based bar consulting group Va’La Hospitality alongside business partners Aaron Melendrez and Othn Nolasco.

Diaz, Melendrez and Nolasco recently launched No Us Without You, an effort to feed undocumented restaurant workers.

No Us Without You

Damian Diaz of No Us Without You distributes fresh eggs to a family in Boyle Heights
(Mel Castro / @melhummel)

When COVID-19 struck, we saw a lot of GoFundMes and charity drives pop up, but most of these were geared toward front-of-the-house workers. But undocumented workers are the backbone of this industry, whether you hate to admit it or not, Diaz said.

And they are the most at risk right now for health issues and hunger.

On April 15, Gov. Gavin Newsom approved $125 million in funds to undocumented immigrants in California affected by the coronavirus pandemic and excluded from the $2.2 trillion federal CARES Act. The proposal has met resistance from conservative groups. The emergency aid, which is partially funded by nonprofit organizations, is expected to offer one-time $500 cash grants for individuals and $1,000 for families.

A one-time payment is an important but largely symbolic gesture to the state’s undocumented workforce, a vital part of the California economy. The state has about 2 million undocumented workers – nearly 1 out of every 10 California workers, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

No Us Without You, which started by donating 30 emergency food boxes to undocumented restaurant workers, aims to fill gaps in the safety net locally. The group passed out 340 emergency kits this week.

Diaz says the group is committed to feeding workers every week for the foreseeable future.

The hardest part is seeing the shame on the faces of some of the people who come here to pick up food boxes. It takes a lot to put your pride aside and accept help. Especially the men. Sometimes they’ll stay in the car while their wife comes to get the box, he said.

Diaz met Tony Ruiz a decade ago when they were both in their early 20s and working at the same Santa Monica restaurant. He describes his friend as hard-working, dogged and kind.

We bonded over hip-hop and weed, Diaz said with a laugh.

He was my first industry friend and we’ve always been there for one another. When he reached out for help, as humbly as he did, it was humbling for me for life to come full circle like that, said Diaz.

For Ruiz, the COVID-19 crisis has been a vivid reminder of the ways his life has been shaped, and his ambitions warped, by forces beyond his control.

I was 21 or 22 when I realized I would probably never get to work in a high-end kitchen because most of them use E-Verify and I wouldn’t pass a background check. That’s when I got the first taste of not belonging. That’s when I first realized how serious it was to not have papers, he said.

This nightmare has brought back all those feelings.

Recently, just to see what filing a claim entailed, Ruiz logged onto the California unemployment insurance website.

The first thing they ask you is for a Social Security number, he said. So what do you do when the one you have isn’t yours? Or you had to go down to MacArthur Park to buy it, because it was the only way you could get a job? What do you do then? he asked, fighting tears.

Do you just pray that a miracle will happen?

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Originally published by LA Times

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to order the state to stop transferring immigrant inmates to federal immigration centers during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a 6-1 vote, the state’s highest court said attorneys for the inmates could still file lawsuits in county courts to stop the transfers and could later return to the Supreme Court raising similar claims if circumstances warrant. The order did not specify which circumstances might warrant a second review, citing only the dynamic nature of the pandemic. Trial judges, the court said, should act expeditiously on such suits.

Two groups of lawyers sued Gov. Gavin Newsom and Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra on April 24 for allowing state prisons and county jails to transfer immigrants to five crowded immigration detention centers in California.

The associations of criminal defense and immigration lawyers called the Immigration and Customs Enforcement centers virulent incubators of the virus with no ability to keep people six feet apart or provide inmates with protective gear such as masks and gloves.

On May 6, a detainee at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego became the first in immigration custody nationwide to die of COVID-19.

State officials told the Supreme Court that the duty to address any legal violations should be borne by federal officials in charge of the centers.

In deciding the case without a full-blown legal opinion, the court said the lawsuit failed to establish that the governor and the attorney general had a clear and mandatory duty to halt the transfers.

In a dissent, Justice Goodwin Liu said the court should have retained authority over the litigation and sought more written legal arguments and fact-finding before deciding whether to order a moratorium on the ICE transfers.

We are in a state of emergency, Liu wrote. We should, without delay, give all sides a full hearing and provide a reasoned opinion answering the questions presented.

California-based foundations for the ACLU represented the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the Southern California chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Assn. in the case.

They argued that the transfers from California’s jails and prisons accounted for most of ICE’s bookings at the centers. Some inmates sent to detention centers had been released early from criminal custody as part of California’s effort to reduce crowding during the pandemic, the suit said.

California is a sanctuary state that generally prohibits city and county law enforcement from transferring inmates to ICE without a warrant or notifying ICE of release dates.

But county jails can transfer immigrants to ICE after they are eligible for release, and prison inmates may be transferred five days before their scheduled release dates.

There are 4,000 immigrants in California’s five ICE centers.

Liu’s dissent was more than twice as long as the majority’s three-page decision.

I fear that today’s order will unnecessarily delay resolution of the issues with potentially dire consequences for inmates, correctional staff, the health care system and our state as a whole, he wrote.

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Originally published by The New York Times

EL PASO – The other day, armed with a face mask, I was rushing through the aisles of an organic supermarket, sizing up the produce, squeezing the oranges and tomatoes, when a memory hit me.


Me – age 6 – stooping to pick these same fruits and vegetables in California’s San Joaquin Valley. I spent the spring weekends and scorching summers of my childhood in those fields, under the watchful eye of my parents. Once I was a teenager, I worked alongside them, my brothers and cousins, too, essential links in a supply chain that kept America fed, but always a step away from derision, detention and deportation.


Today, hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Mexico and Central America are doing that work. By the Department of Agriculture’s estimates, about half the country’s field hands – more than a million workers – are undocumented. Growers and labor contractors estimate that the real proportion is closer to 75 percent.


Suddenly, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, these illegal workers have been deemed essential by the federal government.

Tino, an undocumented worker from Oaxaca, Mexico, is hoeing asparagus on the same farm where my family once worked. He picks tomatoes in the summer and melons in the fall. He told me his employer has given him a letter – tucked inside his wallet, next to a picture of his family – assuring any who ask that he is critical to the food supply chain. The letter was sanctioned by the Department of Homeland Security, the same agency that has spent 17 years trying to deport him.


I don’t feel this letter will stop la migra from deporting me, Tino told me. But it makes me feel I may have a chance in this country, even though Americans may change their minds tomorrow.

True to form, America still wants it both ways. It wants to be fed. And it wants to demonize the undocumented immigrants who make that happen.


Recently, President Trump tweeted that he would temporarily suspend immigration into the United States – a threat consistent with the hit-the-immigrant-like-a-piñata policy he spearheaded in his 2016 campaign. Less than 24 hours later, the president backed down in the face of business groups fearful of losing access to foreign labor, announcing that he’d keep the guest worker program.


In the past, the United States has rewarded immigrant soldiers who fought our wars with a path to citizenship. Today, the fields – along with the meatpacking plants, the delivery trucks and the grocery store shelves – are our front lines, and border security can’t be disconnected from food security.


It’s time to offer all essential workers a path to legalization.

It might seem hard to imagine this happening during the Build the wall presidency, when Congress can barely agree on emergency stimulus measures. Many Republicans no longer support even DACA, the program that protected Dreamers who grew up here and that could be revoked by the Supreme Court this week. But the pandemic scrambles our normal politics.


We have started talking about essential workers as a category of superheroes, said Andrew Selee, the president of the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute and author of Vanishing Frontiers. If the pandemic continues for a year or two, he said, we should think in a bold way about how do we deal with essential workers who have put their life on the line for all of us but who don’t have legal documents.


Maybe, he said, they should be in the pipeline for fast-track regularization, just like those with DACA are, for now.

Of course, America has always been a fickle country. I learned that lesson as a crop-picking boy, when my aunt Esperanza, who ran the team of farmhands that included my mom, brothers and cousins, would yell: Haganse arco. Duck!


The workers without documents would stop hoeing and scramble. Run – if not for their lives, then almost certainly for their livelihoods. We’d watch as the vans of the Border Patrol came to a screeching halt, dust settling. The unlucky workers would make a beeline for the nearest ditch or canal. Some would simply drop to the ground, hoping for refuge amid the rows of sugar beets, tomatoes or cotton. Sometimes the agents gave chase. We’d always root for the prey.

On more than one occasion, agents took my mom and my aunt Teresa, locking them in the cages in the back of the van, because they didn’t have their green cards on them. We’d race home and fetch the cards and make a mad dash to the immigration offices in Fresno some 60 miles away from our farm camp in Oro Loma, praying we’d make it before they could be deported.


Workers planting rows of cantaloupes near Oro Loma. 
Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

We were desperate to prove they had every right to be out in those desolate fields, as if they were taking a dream job away from somebody else.

One time, Aunt Teresa looked genuinely disappointed at the sight of our smiling faces. She was ticked off she hadn’t been deported.

I miss Mexico, she said.

Sometimes, the night after such raids, a puzzling thing would take place. A labor contractor or farmer would drive up as we’d gather for dinner of beef, green chile and potato caldillowashed down with tortillas. He’d compliment us for the hard work we had put in that day. And then he’d ask: Did we know anyone who might want to come and work alongside us?

Taking shelter during a lunch break.
Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

He meant more Mexicans.

The instructions were simple: Get the word out, spread the farmer’s plea back in our towns in Mexico because plenty of rain had fallen that winter and now it was summer and everything around us was ripe, achi

ng for that human touch. The season looked promising. Plenty of crops to pick.

Today not much has changed. The vulnerable – Dreamers working in health care; hotel maids; dairy and poultry plant workers; waiters, cooks and busboys in the $900 billion restaurant industry – still work to feed their families while feeling disposable, deportable by an ungrateful nation.


Tino, the farmworker in the San Joaquin Valley, is worried about the coronavirus. He wonders whether it’s best, after 17 years of hiding from immigration authorities, to return to Oaxaca, where I’d rather die.


But Tino’s dreams outweigh his fears. He wants the best for his family, including a son born in the United States, who’s looking at colleges in California. So, he continues in his $13.50-an-hour job.

He works for, among others, Joe L. Del Bosque of Del Bosque Farms, one of the largest organic melon growers in the country. Mr. Del Bosque employs about 300 people on hundreds of acres, and his fruits and vegetables are sold in just about every other organic supermarket across the country, including the place where I now shop in El Paso.


Sadly, it’s taken a pandemic for Americans to realize that the food in their grocery stores, on their tables, is courtesy of mostly Mexican workers, the majority of them without documents, Mr. Del Bosque told me. They’re the most vulnerable of workers. They’re not hiding behind the pandemic waiting for a stimulus check.

Along with other farmers, he has been pleading with Congress for the past few years to legalize farmworkers, if not as part of comprehensive immigration reform, then as a bill focused on farmworkers, because you need these workers today, tomorrow and for a long time.


With or without Covid, he added, we need to constantly replenish our work force to ensure food supplies.


Some Democratic lawmakers, including Representative Veronica Escobar of El Paso, are pushing to include legalization in any updated coronavirus relief package. The hypocrisy within America is that we want the fruits of their undocumented labor, but we want to give them nothing in return, she said.


Even with unemployment projected to be 15 percent or higher, Mr. Del Bosque told me he doubts he’ll ever see a line of job-seeking Americans flocking to his fields. The rare few who have shown up at 5:30 a.m. don’t come back. Some, he said, give up the backbreaking work before their first lunch break.


He fears looming labor shortages. That’s not because of raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement resuming or a wall keeping workers out. He worries about a potential coronavirus outbreak, yes, but his most immediate concern is that his farmworkers are aging. Their average age is 40. My old school, Oro Loma Elementary School, which was once filled with Mexican children, closed down in 2010.

The fields are simply running out of Mexicans as fewer men and women migrate each year, either because they’re finding better jobs in Mexico or because of demographics. The Mexican birthrate is down from 7.3 children per woman in the 1960s to 2.1 in 2018. Those who do come want higher-paying jobs in other industries.

The best way to guarantee food security in the future is to legalize the current workers in order to keep them here, and to offer a pathway to legalization as an incentive for new agricultural workers to come. These people will be drawn not just from Mexico, but increasingly from Central and South America.

Del Bosque Farms have been dependent on Mexican workers since Mr. Del Bosque’s parents, also immigrants from Mexico, started hiring them in the 1950s under the Bracero Program, which began during World War II. The program issued some five million contracts to Mexicans, inviting them to come to the United States as guest workers to help fill labor shortages so Americans could fight overseas.


Hundreds of the workers who’ve toiled at Del Bosque Farms over the years have become legal residents, many more citizens, including my father, Juan Pablo.


For many years my father spent the springs and summers working in the United States, but every November he’d high-tail it back to his village in Mexico, where he played in a band called the Birds with his five brothers. He didn’t trust his American bosses to raise his pay, and always worried about the possibility of suddenly being deported, so he wouldn’t commit to them. The Texans especially, he thought, were prejudiced against Mexicans.


The boys from Mexico worked so hard, Texas ranchers argued during one of America’s cyclical anti-immigrant periods, that the hiring of Mexicans should not be considered a felony. Thus, the Texas Proviso was adopted in 1952, stating that employing unauthorized workers would not constitute harboring or concealing them. This helps explain why Americans call immigrants illegal but not the businesses that hire them.


When the Bracero Program ended in 1964, amid accusations of mistreatment against Mexicans, my father thought he had enough of plowing rows on a tractor and digging ditches. He dreamed of running a grocery store in Mexico, raising his kids out where mountains embraced us. But he was such a hard worker that his boss couldn’t fathom the idea of losing him. So he helped my father get a green card for every member of his family, including me. Later he began working for the Del Bosques.


Without legalization, he would have left and probably never come back.

As a 6-year-old immigrant, I’d cry at night under the California stars, homesick for Mexico, for my friends and cousins. Then one night, as my mother tucked me into bed, she caressed my face. Shhhh, she whispered, they’re all here now. And she was right.

Today my siblings include a lawyer, an accountant, two truck drivers, a security guard, an educator and a prosthetics specialist. Cousins went off to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or to help run medical centers and corporations, including Walmart in Arkansas. Others still grind away in the fields of California and meatpacking plants of Colorado, work in nursing homes or clean the houses of the rich. Many of us make an annual pilgrimage to our home village in the Mexican desert. But we’re firmly planted here.

Without being thanked for it, we’re replenishing America.

Alfredo Corchado is the Mexico border correspondent for The Dallas Morning News and the author of Midnight in Mexico” and Homelands: Four Friends, Two Countries and the Fate of the

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Originally published by VOX

Immigrant advocates are arguing in court that American citizens who are married to unauthorized immigrants should still be eligible for stimulus checks along with their children.

The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, gives most taxpayers up to $1,200 and $500 for each of their children under the age of 17. But even if they pay taxes, unauthorized immigrants are not eligible for the stimulus checks, which the government started sending out in April. Neither is anyone else in their household, including their spouses and children, even if their spouses and children are US citizens.

Advocates from Georgetown Law and Villanova Law filed a class action lawsuit in Maryland federal court on Wednesday challenging the CARES Act on behalf of seven US citizen children of unauthorized immigrant taxpayers. They argued that it unfairly discriminates against these children based on their parents’ immigration status and denies them equal protection under the law in violation of the US Constitution’s due process clause.

Immigrant advocates at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund also filed a lawsuit last week arguing that the CARES Act is unconstitutional because it discriminates against mixed-status couples.

The refusal to distribute this benefit to US citizen children undermines the CARES Act’s goals of providing assistance to Americans in need, frustrates the Act’s efforts to jumpstart the economy, and punishes citizen children for their parents’ status – punishment that is particularly nonsensical given that undocumented immigrants, collectively, pay billions of dollars each year in taxes, Mary McCord, legal director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, said in a statement.

How the CARES Act penalizes unauthorized immigrants and their families

The bill excludes those in households with people of mixed immigration status, where some tax filers or their children may use what’s called an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

The IRS issues ITINs to unauthorized immigrants so they can pay taxes, even though they don’t have a Social Security number. If anyone in the household uses an ITIN – either a spouse or a dependent child – that means no one in the household will qualify for the stimulus checks unless one spouse served in the military in 2019.

If the law is allowed to stand, it could impact an estimated 16.7 million people who live in mixed-status households nationwide, including 8.2 million US-born or naturalized citizens.

The exclusion for mixed-status households defies current practices: Many other federal programs are designed in such a way that US citizen children of unauthorized immigrants can access necessary benefits, including the child tax credit, food stamps, housing assistance, welfare benefits, and benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.

But there is a precedent for this kind of exclusion. Amid the global financial crisis in 2008, Congress handed out tax rebates to most American taxpayers, except for the spouses of immigrants who didn’t have Social Security numbers.

What the exclusion means for mixed-status families

Most of the families of the children named in Wednesday’s lawsuit have a combined income of no more than $30,000 and, absent financial support from the federal government, are struggling to stay afloat.

One parent, identified only as N.R. in the complaint, lost her job at a restaurant during the pandemic and her partner has also been unable to work because he contracted Covid-19. The family has no income and depends on community support as well as food from her child’s school system in order to survive.

Another parent, C.V., lost her job at a catering company and has had to pick up part-time work at a restaurant, but she fears that she won’t be able to pay rent and will be evicted along with her child. And H.G.T., who has three children, hasn’t been able to afford internet access, which has become necessary as her older children try to attend school online.

Mixed-status couples are also suffering from being denied stimulus checks. Sarah and her husband Juan, who asked to be identified only by their first names to protect their privacy, are one such couple living in Evansville, Indiana. She is a born-and-raised US citizen, but he came to the US 14 years ago from Honduras without authorization, seeking to earn enough money to support his parents and siblings back home.

The couple married three years ago, and shortly thereafter, she started the process of sponsoring him for a green card. He’s still waiting for an interview at a consulate in Honduras, which has been postponed on account of the pandemic. But if all goes to plan, he will soon have permanent residency and be issued a Social Security number.

In the meantime, however, Juan is still living in the US as an unauthorized immigrant, filing taxes under an ITIN. Neither he nor Sarah, therefore, are eligible for stimulus checks.

Sarah is continuing to work from home during the pandemic, working in medical billing and making $45,000 a year. And Juan chose to take a month off from his job in painting and construction because they feared he would contract the virus at work, but he is now back on the job. She said that, together, they make a decent living, but they do have a lot of expenses, including his biweekly $120 remittances for his family in Honduras so they can buy food and pay their water and electric bills.

Still, she’s angry that both she and her husband are being penalized during the pandemic.

While not receiving the stimulus hasn’t been a burden, it feels like a slap in the face as a US citizen that even I won’t get it, she said. I, personally, am not opposed to my tax dollars paying for undocumented immigrants receiving aid during this pandemic, but I can understand why our government wouldn’t do this. But me? A US citizen? I’m insulted and angry. I feel like my country does not care about me in the slightest.

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