- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Shut out of the federal stimulus, illegal immigrants are turning to charity — and California is leading a national charge of state and local governments, as well as nonprofit organizations, asking Americans to help by digging into their own stimulus checks to make tax-deductible donations.

Those behind the push say the community has been among the hardest-hit by the virus, with illegal immigrants often still on the job, performing essential work for low pay, or else left destitute when restaurant and housecleaning jobs dried up.

From coast to coast, calls have emanated for Americans to help them bridge the gap between their last paychecks and future work when the economy restarts.

A public school in Oakland, California, asked for cash. A Texas nonprofit set a $100,000 fundraising goal. In the Washington metropolitan area, Sanctuary DMV set an initial goal of $120,000 a month ago — and the money came in so quickly its new target is $600,000. A New York fund has also doubled its initial $100,000 target.

Several groups issued special pleas on Tuesday, which was not only the Mexican celebration of Cinco de Mayo, but also was designated “Giving Tuesday,” Usually that’s the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving, following the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping days with a call to donate to charity. But a number of nonprofits declared the need for another Giving Tuesday amid the virus crisis, and immigration groups were prominent supplicants.

“In a time where our communities are experiencing unprecedented vulnerabilities, many day laborers and low-wage workers are out of work and are worried they won’t have enough for food, rent or utilities. With your contribution, we can provide direct cash assistance to families across the country,” said Pablo Alvarado, cofounder of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, a prominent immigration advocacy outfit.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has been the most aggressive, setting a goal of $50 million in charitable donations, and earmarking another $75 million of state taxpayers’ money, too. He says they’ll be able to pay 150,000 illegal immigrant households up to $1,000 in order to help them sustain the economic upheaval.

On Tuesday, conservative public interest law firm Judicial Watch went to court on behalf of two state taxpayers asking a Los Angeles judge to halt Mr. Newsom’s program. Judicial Watch says federal law only allows states to give benefits to illegal immigrants by vote of the state legislature. Mr. Newsom didn’t get explicit permission, the group says.

The judge refused to issue the temporary restraining order. Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said the judge agreed Mr. Newsom was likely spending money without authorization, but found the immediacy of getting payments out was in the public interest, and weighed against an injunction.

Mr. Fitton vowed an appeal, but California insisted the governor is on firm footing.

“California is taking legally and morally justified action to assist all Californians impacted by COVID-19,” said Scott Murray, deputy director of public affairs for the California Department of Social Services.

The federal stimulus specifically excludes taxpayers who file taxes through an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number rather than a Social Security number. Most of those who use an ITIN are illegal immigrants — though not all.

Activists say the federal law is particularly cruel because it strikes at so-called “mixed-status” families — those where one parent is in the country illegally but another parent or children are U.S. citizens or legal residents. If the two spouses file jointly and one of them uses an ITIN, neither can receive a check, thanks to the way the law was written.

Illegal immigrants are also not supposed to be eligible for unemployment benefits, though spouses who are in the country legally aren’t prohibited from that assistance.

Activists said denying illegal immigrants benefits can force them back to work in order to make ends meet, upending social distancing goals and creating a higher overall risk level for spreading the disease.

“Asking people to choose between their health and putting food on their tables is not a real choice,” said Richard Morales, policy and program director for Faith in Action’s LA RED Campaign, which also made a Giving Tuesday plea for donations.

“Instead of ensuring that members of all communities in this country had the support and protection they need from the virus, Congress went out of its way to exclude immigrants from receiving a stimulus check, making a clear choice about who is disposable,” Mr. Morales said.

California’s fund is aimed squarely at illegal immigrants, but some of the other campaigns are more circumspect, saying they were targeting “those who are most excluded” from the federal stimulus.

NDLON specifically asked its supporters to dedicate part of their stimulus checks to go to migrants as part of its Immigrant Worker Safety Net Fund.

Organizers of the California effort said they’re already seeing that happen in their campaign.

“Perhaps a quarter of our online donations have come of Californians donating a portion of their stimulus checks,” Daranee Petsod, president of Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, said in a Q&A posted on GCIR’s website.

“And we have also seen donations from DACA beneficiaries and undocumented immigrants who still have work. Seeing people standing up for one another has been very heartening,” she added.

Kathleen Kelly Janus, an advisor to Mr. Newsom, said in the GCIR Q&A that they’re seeing people who don’t usually give to immigration causes donate to this one.

As of Tuesday evening, the California effort said it had raised $9.9 million — though even if they reach the $50 million goal, and the state’s $75 million isn’t blocked, Ms. Petsod said they’ll fall well short of being able to help all 2 million illegal immigrants in California.

In New York, the State Youth Leadership Council began with a $100,000 goal, but quickly met it and upped its target to $200,000. In an announcement last month on GoFundMe, a crowdsource funding website, NYSYLC says it had 2,500 requests for money.

Sanctuary DMV, which is running its campaign on GoFundMe.com says that since many of the illegal immigrants it serves don’t have bank accounts, the group is “physically dropping off cash” with those who need it.

One donor on the website said their $50 contribution “comes from my children’s share of our stimulus checks. They thought it was unfair that not everyone should get help.”

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