Caravan sweeps through Southern California in support of safety net for undocumented workers

A group of undocumented immigrant workers and community organizers in the Inland Empire hold a banner as they rally in Ontario early Tuesday morning, Sept. 27, 2022 before embarking on a two-day caravan across the state ending in San Francisco. The caravan is in support of AB 2847 which would provide unemployment benefits to excluded immigrant workers in California. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Bryan Sanchez, a community organizer with Safety Net for all Coalition, center, speaks as a group of undocumented immigrant workers rally in Ontario early Tuesday morning, Sept. 27, 2022 before embarking on a two-day caravan across the state ending in San Francisco. The caravan is in support of AB 2847 which would provide unemployment benefits to excluded immigrant workers in California. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

Fanelly Millan, an organizer with Safety Net for all Coalition, right, observes a group of undocumented immigrant workers as they board their van in Ontario early Tuesday morning, Sept. 27, 2022 before embarking on a two-day caravan across the state ending in San Francisco. The caravan is in support of AB 2847 which would provide unemployment benefits to excluded immigrant workers in California. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

A group of undocumented immigrant workers and community organizers in the Inland Empire rally in Ontario early Tuesday morning, Sept. 27, 2022 before embarking on a two-day caravan across the state ending in San Francisco. The caravan is in support of AB 2847 which would provide unemployment benefits to excluded immigrant workers in California. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

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A vehicle caravan of several organizations from the Safety Net For All coalition rallied at a press conference in the Pasadena Community Job Center and called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to support undocumented workers by signing Assembly Bill 2847 on Tuesday morning, Sept. 27.

The two-day caravan, which started at the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice in Ontario on Tuesday morning, will be joined by others during the caravan’s stops in Oxnard and Fresno and San Francisco, where the caravan will hold another press conference on Wednesday morning.

The press conference in Pasadena started with music from Los Jornaleros del Norte, a day-laborer band that was launched after a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in 1995, before organizers and undocumented workers spoke passionately on why the bill should be signed.

Fanelly Millán from the Pomona Economic Opportunity Center said the coalition has been campaigning for unemployment benefits for excluded workers ever since the start of the pandemic. The organizers use the term “excluded workers” as undocumented workers were excluded from federal help during the pandemic despite working in essential businesses.

The caravan participants then loaded the food and snacks provided by the Pasadena Community Job Center onto the vans while the band members loaded their equipment.

“It’s a lot of work, but we’re used to it,” said Pablo Alvardo, director of the National Day Laborers Network and member of Los Journaleros del Norte.

Meanwhile, organizers and workers use tape to form words such as “Safety Net 4 All!” or “Support AB 2847” on the vehicles.

AB 2847, introduced by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), would create the Excluded Workers Pilot Program. Under the program, undocumented workers who are ineligible for state or federal benefits because of their immigration status can receive financial support during their unemployment — $300 per week for up to 20 weeks.

In order to qualify, an individual has to meet several criteria, such as showing proof of residence in California and proof that at least 93 hours of work were performed or that the individual earned $1,300 over 3 months within the year prior to the application.

The bill also protects undocumented workers’ privacy by prohibiting the Employment Development Department from keeping copies of applicants’ application documents.

Providing undocumented workers a safety net will help make California’s economy more resilient, according to the bill. Six percent of California’s 17.1 million-strong workforce — over one million workers — are undocumented, according to a study by the University of California, Merced, contributing an estimate of $3.7 billion in annual state and local tax revenues.

These workers work primarily in the construction, manufacturing and agriculture industries, where they make up 50% of the workforce, according to a USC Equity Research Institutue report. In Los Angeles County, Latino immigrants earn the lowest median wage at $14 per hour. White U.S.-born individuals earn the highest median wage of $32.

The COVID-19 pandemic added more hardship for the excluded workers, who already struggle with low wages and food insecurity.

The Pasadena Community Job Center’s food distribution program, Mano a Mano, currently serves 700 families each month, according to the organization’s director, Jose Madera. The center has served over 5,724 families — from Pasadena and surrounding cities in the San Gabriel Valley — since May 2020.

Bryan Sanchez, an organizer from Inland Coalition for Immigration Justice, saw many workers being pushed to the brink during the pandemic, most of them taking the risk of contracting COVID-19 at work as they are the sole breadwinner. Many who lost their jobs also exhausted their savings.

Sanchez saw the bill as something that can help the workers avoid going into poverty or losing their homes despite contributing to the state’s economy.

“We’re not asking for disproportionate treatment,” he said. “We just want what’s right.”

Adriana Gulpar, from Riverside, was one of those affected badly by the pandemic.

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When Gulpar lost her job as a waitress, she couldn’t pay her bills or afford groceries. In order to get by, she relied on food assistance from churches or help from organizations such as the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice.

Gulpar hopes Newsom will sign the bill into law.

“Newsom has said in the past that immigrants are important to the state of California,” she said. “And if he truly believes that, he should sign the bill.”