California farm workers
California farm workers. USDA photo

One in ten California workers are in the United States illegally, according to California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Many of these workers have been locked out of their jobs along with millions of other California workers during the stay-at-home orders brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

To help American workers, Congress has authorized direct cash payments to every family earning less than $75,000, and states have increased unemployment benefits.

The problem with this aid is that anyone who is undocumented cannot collect federal money or most other benefits. Congress has been consistent about denying funds to people who are undocumented. That prohibition predates Donald Trump. It has been generally supported by Republican lawmakers over the years.

Nonetheless, almost 50 percent of the agricultural workforce in America is employed illegally. In California it is probably even higher.

The workers who grow and harvest practically all of America’s vegetables, nuts and fruits, including apples, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, tomatoes, asparagus, garlic, onions, lettuce and even mushrooms, are almost all here illegally. We can’t forget that surveys show that almost 100 percent of dairy workers in New York state, for example, are mostly Mexican. Guess how many of those Mexican-born dairy workers might not have the proper work papers?

So, while millions of workers locked out of employment because of the virus are collecting cash and benefits to tide them over, there are many workers who are prohibited by law from collecting those same benefits.

There is one big “however” involved in this situation.

The illegal workforce in the world’s fifth largest economy, that of the state of California, is now getting help from both the state and the private sector.

Raoul Lowery Contreras

Much to the annoyance of the usual right-wing suspects, Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced that a public/private effort is making $125 million available for distribution to many of those locked-down but prohibited from federal cash and benefits.

The Golden State is contributing $75 million and private sector donations will add another $50 million.

To forestall complaints, Newsom is very clear in pointing out that these same illegally-working people pay huge taxes in California. “Last year, undocumented immigrants paid $2.5 billion in local and state taxes,” he noted.

Thus, any argument that these people shouldn’t receive any benefits because they are law breakers is superseded by the fact they are taxpayers just like everyone else.

Kudos to the state of California. It makes me proud to say I am a Californian.

Raoul Lowery Contreras is a Marine Corps veteran, political consultant and author of the new book White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPS) & Mexicans. His work has appeared in the New American News Service of the New York Times Syndicate.