Things That Matter

Farmworkers Are Putting Their Lives At Risk As They Continue To Work The Fields Despite Raging Wildfires

Natural disasters bring the best in people, but often also the worst. The recent California fires have highlighted the deep inequalities in the state when it comes to socioeconomic status. While the media went head over heels over which celebrity had had to flee their home (pobrecitos!) or which vineyard had been set ablaze (wine, after all, is a luxury rather than a life sustaining product), few have stopped to think about the long lasting effects that the fires have had on the hundreds of workers (some of them undocumented) who keep the region afloat by farming, cleaning and organizing various production processes. 

Well, what you will read now will make your blood boil, as it reveals the deep divide between the haves and the have-nots in the world. 

As the region of Sonoma, California, is still burning residents have fled but farmers are still working away.

Credit: napavalley / Instagram

When fields burn, the air becomes a toxic mix of dust, ashes and harmful gases (imagine smoking 20 cigarettes in less than an hour and you will get an idea of how poisonous this melange can be). Well, residents of the area affected by the Kincade Fire were evacuated when air quality dropped. However, field workers were still expected to toil in the fields.  According to reports, some of these workers were still being bused to and from the fields even as the fires burnt. What people are willing to risk in the name of profit, eh? Just no! As reported by Eater San Francisco, Ariel Kelly, the CEO of community-based recovery effort Corazón Healdsburg, said: “we had about 90 farmworkers in our shelter leave on buses with their employer to go out and pick and then return back to the shelter”. 

The quality of the air was deemed as dangerous! But “they are only field workers”, right? This is totally outrageous! 

Credit: 10kbottles / Instagram

So what does this tell us? That someone, somewhere, decided that the lives of some actual human beings are more valuable than those of others? You bet that’s what happened. We just can’t understand how this thought, which is nothing short of a disgusting act of negligence, can cross someone’s mind. Of course, farmers are mostly migrants who feel, and are, in a vulnerable and marginalized position in which they can’t afford to fight back. Sonoma authorities said: “if somebody wants perfect health, they need to leave our community, because we have smoke here.”

Volunteers came to their aid…

Credit: Sonoma / Instagram

Regardless of the working agreement a company or farm has with a worker, some basic safety needs to be provided. If not legal (because some of these workers live in the dark shadows of an undocumented status that makes them vulnerable), this is at least an ethical mandate. But in the California fires it was volunteers who came to their aid. As reported by Eater San Francisco: “around 300 farm workers sought makeshift shelter in Cloverdale’s Citrus Fairgrounds. Area volunteers rushed to assist the workers and their families, many of whom had fled via car, with little more than the clothes on their backs”. This is such a stark image of negligence. But will someone ever be held accountable?

If they don’t work, they don’t get paid, so they risked their lives to survive (what a contradiction, eh?)

Credit: thelegionofbloomca / Instagram

According to Ariel Kelly from community-based recovery effort Corazón Healdsburg these workers were not even given masks to at least protect themselves from direct contact with the fumes. They are willing to work under these conditions because they get paid per shift and not showing up translates into not being paid, and possibly into not being chosen to work again. Because the extent of the damage caused by the fires remains uncertain, many of these workers want to get what could be the last few pays before a hiatus with no income. 

They are mostly uninsured and live hand to mouth. To top that, they are now unsure about how they will be able to provide for their families.

Credit: machvox/ Instagram

Maegan Ortiz, the executive director of el Instituto de Educación Popular del Sur de California, told The Guardian, “For a lot of day laborers and household workers, not having a day’s work often means the difference between houselessness or not.  Not having a day’s work is actually a big deal. Not working means not having money for medication for a chronic illness. Not working means not having money for food”. When we read stories like this we can’t help but wonder how on Earth there are still some that think that migrant workers are lazy or that they don’t contribute to the economy, when in fact they are giving everything to make a living. Even if it means risking their health. One thing is for certain. They deserve, and need, more protection. 

California Farmworkers Treated To Touching ‘Farmworkers Appreciation Caravan’

Culture

California Farmworkers Treated To Touching ‘Farmworkers Appreciation Caravan’

Sal Lua / Facebook

No matter what is happening in the world, farmworkers are always there to make sure that we have food. We have seen images of farmworkers in the fields during wildfires and other natural disasters. The COVID-19 pandemic is no different and some people have come together to show them some love.

Farmworkers are still in the fields harvesting produce so we can all have food while sheltering at home.

Credit: Sal Lua / Facebook

Farmworkers have been deemed as essential during the pandemic and they are still in the fields picking the fruits and vegetables we all need during this time. Unlike most people, the farmworkers, who are largely migrants, are risking their health to make sure that we all have the food we all want and need.

One group of farmworkers got a moment of love and appreciation from people who rely on them.

Credit: Sal Lua / Facebook

Despite being deemed essential and being given paperwork that lists them as essential, they are still not protected. According to The New York Times, the same workers deemed as essential are still at risk every day of being arrested, detained, and deported because of their immigration status.

The small parade of love has received national attention on social media.

The photos came from a farm in California, which has a high undocumented population, especially among farmworkers. According to data on undocumented immigrant stimulus checks offered, there are about 2.3 million undocumented people living in California.

People in the mini parade held signs offering messages of love and appreciation for the people working in the fields.

Credit: Sal Lua / Facebook

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have both called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to develop a plan to help detainees during this time. Immigration and criminal justice reform advocates fear the devastating impact COVID-19 could have on people currently detained.

“Immigration detention should not be a death sentence,” Andrea Flores, ACLU deputy director of policy, Equality Division said in a statement. “Detention in ICE facilities is inherently dangerous as we endure the COVID-19 pandemic, and ICE has demonstrated it is unable to provide safe and sanitary conditions — even in the best of circumstances. This extraordinary public health crisis compels an extraordinary response. Temporarily suspending enforcement and releasing those in detention is necessary both for the safety of detainees and staff and to flatten the curve for all.”

The group, called the Farmworker Appreciation Caravan, is doing more than showing support.

The group is raising money to help farmworkers and their families during this time. The farmworkers are not paid much for their jobs and the strain from a pandemic could bring financial stress under which most Americans are struggling. This bit of help from the community could change the world for some of the families.

The images are being met with an admiration for the farmworkers.

“Thank you to your hands who are making it possible for us to get food to our table,” one Twitter user said. “Thank you so much for your hard work.”

READ: More Than A Million Farmworkers Are Putting Themselves At Risk During The Coronavirus Pandemic And Here’s Why

Undocumented Immigrants In California Can Now Apply For COVID-19 Financial Assistance

Things That Matter

Undocumented Immigrants In California Can Now Apply For COVID-19 Financial Assistance

Rich Pedroncelli / Getty

Update May 20, 2020, 9:16 p.m. PST: Undocumented immigrants in the U.S. have been left in the dark when it comes to government assistance to weather the COVID-19 crisis. Yet, California has set aside $75 million to offer aid to undocumented immigrants living in the state.

Undocumented Californians can apply for a one-time relief payment from the state government.

California Governor Gavin Newsom created a fund to help ease the financial burden of the health crisis on 150,000 undocumented people living in the state. Those who qualify are eligible for one-time payments of $500 and up to $1,000 total per household. The fund was created to help undocumented people who are being left out of federal relief payments.

“We know that money is limited and doesn’t reflect the amount of taxes that the undocumented pay in California,” Olimpia Blanco, a coordinator at Carecen, told The New York Times. “We believe we owe it to the community to make the process as equitable as possible and uphold the first-come, first-served nature of it.”

The relief payments will help millions of children living with undocumented parents.

The children, while U.S. citizens, are not eligible for federal funds because of their age. California’s plans are a way to bridge that gap created by the federal government to relieve as many people living in the U.S. as possible. Undocumented people contribute billions of dollars to the U.S. in taxes every year. These tax dollars are what is being used to fund the federal $2.2 trillion stimulus package that has bailed out major corporations.

California is one of a handful of states that are implementing programs to help their undocumented communities stay afloat during the pandemic. In other states, cities and organizations have picked up the responsibility of helping their undocumented community.

Original: In March, the federal government passed a record $2.2 trillion stimulus plan meant to help dampen the economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. Part of the stimulus bill included $1,200 cash payments to all eligible U.S. residents – however, the bill left out millions of tax-paying migrants.

Since the bill passed, Democratic lawmakers in Congress have tried to introduce additional legislation that would provide relief to vulernable undocumented populations – many of whom are working in jobs deemed “essential” by state and local governments. But so far they’ve come up short.

California becomes the first state in the country to introduce Coronavirus relief funds to undocumented residents.

During his daily press briefing, Newsom said the state is committing $125 million to undocumented workers through a public-private partnership, that will include $75 million in state funds for disaster relief assistance and additional $50 million pledged by a group of philanthropic partners.

“Even if there’s gaps, we can help begin to fill them,” Newsom said. “I’m not here to suggest that $125 million is enough. But I am here to suggest that it’s a good start and I’m very proud it’s starting here in the state of California.”

Approximately 150,000 undocumented adult Californians will receive a one-time cash benefit of $500 from the state fund, with a cap of $1,000 per household, to deal with “specific needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to a release from the governor’s office.

Undocumented residents pay billions in taxes but up until have been ineligible for any financial aid.

In announcing the move, Newsom stressed that undocumented workers are essential and overrepresented in many sectors keeping the state afloat, including health care, agriculture and food, manufacturing and logistics and construction.

It’s estimated that about 10% of California’s workforce is undocumented. And though they paid over $2.5 billion in local and state taxes last year, they benefit from neither unemployment insurance nor the $2.2 trillion stimulus signed by President Trump. Private donors to the $50 million philanthropy effort include the Emerson Collective, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, James Irvine Foundation, California Endowment and Blue Shield Foundation, Newsom said. 

Since the pandemic hit California, other grassroots financial assistance programs for undocumented workers affected by COVID-19-related job losses have been created in San Francisco and Sonoma CountyA relief fund for local migrant youth was launched in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, and Alameda counties and recently reopened its application process.

Immigrant advocate groups quickly applauded the state’s efforts.

Credit: @NILC / Twitter

“This virus doesn’t discriminate — it doesn’t care about race, class, or wealth. Our response to this crisis shouldn’t either. California is leading at a time when Congress should be doing more for immigrants in #COVID19 relief efforts,” the National Immigration Law Center said on Facebook.

“Today’s announcement is a necessary first step to close the widening gap between immigrants and vital assistance that could mean the difference between life and death for millions of Californians,” the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) said in a statement Wednesday.

Gov. Newsom also announced measures meant to support the growing population of unemployed residents.

Credit: Thomas Ellington / Flickr

The state Employment Development Department has received a record 2.7 million new claims for regular jobless benefits since March 12. When you put that into comparison against the Great Recession in 2008, there were a total of 2.5 million unemployment claims.

The new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program approved by Congress will provide up to 39 weeks of benefits retroactive to Feb. 2 for those who have lost income between that date and the week ending Dec.31. The program also will provide an additional $600 per week in benefits until July 31.

The efforts to more quickly distribute benefits to struggling Californians come after criticism that the state is lagging behind.

Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Getty

Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) said Wednesday that other states, including Michigan and New York, had already begun sending out benefits to independent contractors and the self-employed. California, he said, has acted “way too slowly. They are behind a lot of other states.”

Newsom’s comments came a day after state Labor Secretary Julie Su announced that a new online portal would be created in the next two weeks allowing independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed to file documents to obtain benefits.