Activists Stage ‘Die-in’ at Newsom Residence to Demand More Relief for Immigrant Workers
Activists held a die-in on the street in front of Gov. Gavin Newsomâs Sacramento home early Wednesday to demand COVID-19 relief for undocumented workers who they say are largely excluded from unemployment benefits.
Fifty-eight people â mostly immigrant workers and activists from across California â lied down in the street to bring attention to the disproportionate share of pandemic-related deaths borne by workers and their families in sectors the state identified as the most high-risk for COVID-19 spread, including agriculture, warehouses and restaurants.
In 10 industries in California, the first 10 months of the pandemic saw a 30% increase in deaths of essential workers in those industries compared to the previous year, according a study from U.C. Mercedâs Community and Labor Center.
âAs an immigrant, Iâve seen how weâve been excluded from all the benefits the government has provided to workers,â said Mirna Bueso, 45, who worked two part-time jobs, one at a warehouse and one at a restaurant before losing both jobs during the pandemic. Bueso, who lives in San Francisco, was unemployed for eight months but did not qualify for assistance because she is undocumented. Through an employment agency she has now been able to work a couple of days a week, but work is still unstable.
Bueso said she is not afraid of identifying herself as undocumented, because she contributes to the state and federal governments by paying her taxes.
âWe are also part of this state. We pay taxes. We pay them in each of our paychecks,” she said. “Even if they donât let us qualify for certain benefits.”
âEvery week, charges are taxed on our income for unemployment, disability benefits and social security… but we donât get to see that. We are not asking for charity, we are asking to get back what we have given to this state.”
Bueso has been volunteering at food banks as a way to feed her family. Last year, she received $1,000 from a nonprofit organization providing assistance to undocumented immigrant workers, but given the cost of living in San Francisco, the money hasn’t gone far.
âWe [essential immigrant workers] should not be feeling so unprotected as we are now. We donât have a guarantee â¦ if we lose our employment, we are practically left with nothing, in the streets, because many of us have been evicted from the places we live because we owe more than eight months in rent,â Bueso said.
The Legislature is currently in the final stages of deciding how to spend a $75 billion budget surplus. Some believe the surplus should include more support for immigrant workers.
“The issue of political will is always a question, but financially itâs viable,” said Lucas Zucker, policy and communications director for Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, which organized the protest. “The rich have gotten richer in this pandemic.”
Zucker said the state of New York has shown leadership on the issue with its establishment of an excluded workers fund, and said he’d like to see that same kind of leadership in California.
âIn terms of the recovery, Californiaâs recovery wonât be complete if families are still left behind,â he said.
Bueso said that through todayâs action, she would like to see the inclusion of immigrant workers in the state budget “because we are essential parts in the stateâs economy.” The current plan doesn’t include workers like Bueso. “Weâre not included and we are a fundamental part of the stateâs economy,â she said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
This year, undocumented workers were for the first time eligible for the California Earned Income Tax Credit â a tax credit for Californians who earn up to $30,000 and which may provide as much as $3,027 depending on the number of dependents. But since those benefits are dependent on an undocumented worker filing taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) â and since getting one can itself be an ordeal âÂ advocates say this means an unknown number of undocumented workers are still left out of Californiaâs current stimulus plan.
âToo many of our families lost our entire life savings, went thousands of dollars in debt, or risked our lives in deadly jobs to make ends meet, while the rich continued to get richer,â said Jennifer Alejo of Trabajadores Unidos/Workers United, who helped lead the die-in.
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