April 15th is a day that the undocumented must dread more than any of us who pay taxes. Out of their minuscule wages received for long hours of often backbreaking work in farming, food factory labor, domestic labor and caregiving, they must pay taxes to the United States government.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy released a report in February 2016, stating that 11 million undocumented workers in the United States are paying annually an estimated amount of $11.64 billion in state and local taxes, “on average an estimated 8 percent of their incomes.”
California’s governor finally – and miraculously in a nation that largely ignores the poor and marginalized – Governor Newsom finally recognized the undocumented for doing labor that, in the time of Covid-19, is considered to be essential, frontline and indispensable.
Newsom recognized and honored undocumented workers in California – and by inference in the USA – on April 15th, normally “tax day”, underlining the irony of the undocumented being forced to support the US government but getting almost no services from that same government.
Said Newsom, “We feel a deep sense of gratitude for people that are in fear of deportation but are still addressing the essential needs of tens of millions of Californians. And that’s why I’m proud as governor to be the first state to announce a program for direct disaster assistance to those individuals, a total of $125 million.”
The program will assist 150,000 undocumented workers in California with support payments of $500 to $1,000, depending on their circumstances. Granted there are about a million and a half of these essential workers in California alone, and Newsom is quite aware of that. But the recognition, the swift action to give relief, and the gratitude expressed by the governor of California are a huge breath of fresh, healthy air.
The program will also assist undocumented workers in finding their way to places wherein they can be tested for Covid-19, under what the governor termed “presumptive eligibility” for medical care – hopefully without the presence of ICE or any other oppressive and dangerous “authorities”. That is also a very big step forward in giving acceptance and respect to those who are, in truth, a basis of our economy.
And Newsom also emphasized that “I’m not here to suggest that $125 million is enough, but I am here to suggest it’s a good start…”
Personally I found Newsom’s forthright humility and dignified representation of the undocumented in our midst, to be a balm to the soul, and I know that people who’ve struggled to support the undocumented in insufficiently funded groups throughout California feel the same way.
I spoke with Dr. Ann Aurelia Lopez, for example, director of the Center for Farmworker Families in Watsonville-Santa Cruz. Ann and the Center for Farm worker Families have provided much-needed aid to farm worker families for many years, trying to bridge the gap between the pitiful wage farm workers make when they put food on all of our tables, and what they can afford to put on their own tables.
Said Ann Lopez: “I’m really happy that he (Newsom) declared that 10% of California’s workforce is undocumented, and it’s unjust not to include these folks in the stimulus. Sure glad I live in this state!”
I think Governor Newsom expressed the desire of most Californians to attend to the needs of all of all who live in our state, and his efforts to fulfill that desire for all of us may be a healing influence to us all.
It may not seem, when we are all struggling to cope with the Covid-19 situation, that we’d need that kind of upliftment. But the insistence on our own progressive – yes, truly progressive – identity at this time is a very important move, spiritually, emotionally and politically.
It isn’t necessary to remind readers of the nastiness with which the present US administration has treated the undocumented, the refugees, the asylum seekers, the desperate among us. Suffice it to say that Trump has slung every sort of ugly epithet at them, and used them shamelessly as scapegoats for the greed and criminality of the corporate-military-government establishment.
The undocumented have been caged, ripped from their families, kept without charges in detention, with horrible sanitation and unhealthy food. The Trump administration’s treatment of them bespeaks a heartlessness at the core of his – and his political party’s – agenda for the USA.
Given that, and given his pompous blatherings about how he “calls the shots” on Covid-19 policy over the states and the governors, while he does nothing, just as Governor Cuomo has said – it is nothing short of a bold rebellion from Governor Newsom, and those supporting the California stimulus program for the undocumented, to acknowledge the critical contribution that has been made to California’s economy by those who’ve been ignored, starved, worked until they dropped, and given the most unlivable places to live and shelter their families.
Let this be a program that doesn’t stop when Covid-19 is over, or when some random, arbitrary offensive by ICE turns the worlds of the undocumented upside down yet again. This stimulus program for the undocumented must be designed and administered in a way that helps them to feel safe. And oversight must guarantee that the support goes to the real people…and is not siphoned by agencies or others who are not in desperate need.
In addition, we must work to make the undocumented who already pay taxes, know that they belong here. We must provide them with an easy path to citizenship, not the complicated mess that Zoe Lofgren’s HR 5038 is, with its impossible hurdles, both emotional and financial.
Ann Lopez’ Center for Farm worker Families newsletter says this about HR 5038: “Rather than providing a smooth unobstructed path to legal status, the bill provides a maze of time constraints, temporary visas, and expenses beyond the means of farm workers with families..”
Ann Lopez knows.
For more information on Dr. Ann Aurelia Lopez, the Center for Farm worker Families, and the plight of undocumented farm workers in particular, listen to our Women Rising Radio program #27, about Ann’s work:
Women Rising Radio also produced a short movie featuring Ann and her work to expose the alarming living conditions the undocumented suffer. She provides solutions to this problem!