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Caravan pressures Gov. Newsom to extend unemployment benefits to undocumented Californians

Laura S. Diaz, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — With hundreds of bills awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s veto or approval, dozens of undocumented immigrant workers and allies are crossing the state in a two-day vehicle caravan to pressure him to sign legislation that would extend unemployment benefits to all Californians regardless of immigration status.

The caravan is slated to begin Tuesday morning in Ontario and make stops in Pasadena, Oxnard and Fresno in the afternoon. The caravan will continue to San Francisco on Wednesday.

Participants are hopeful the two-day effort will bring the needs of California’s undocumented workers back to the forefront and lead Newsom to create the Excluded Workers Pilot Program. If the program is approved and funded, undocumented and unemployed workers could qualify for $300 a week for up to 20 weeks between Jan. 1, 2024 and Dec. 31, 2024.

Undocumented people form 1.1 million of the state’s 17.1 million workers — approximately 1 in 16 workers, according to a March report from the University of California, Merced Community and Labor Center. Undocumented workers collectively contribute $3.7 billion in state and local tax revenues, UC Merced reported.

Yet, these workers are ineligible for unemployment benefits because of their immigration status, said Sarait Martinez, executive director of Centro Binacional para el Desarrollo Indígena Oaxaqueño, or the Binational Center for the Development of Oaxacan Indigenous Communities.

“It is time to end the exclusion of workers because of their immigration status when they continue to provide for the economy,” Martinez said.


Undocumented workers lack many safety net benefits

Rosa Hernández is among those who would benefit from the proposed pilot program.

Hernández, an undocumented farmworker living in Madera, has been unemployed since the COVID-19 pandemic started. She and her husband, who is also undocumented, moved to California in 1999 from the town of Juxtlahuaca in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. They have six children, all born in California.

“I’ve always worked in the fields since I moved here,” Hernández said in Spanish.


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