Immigrant Rights Leaders Say This Is the Time to Act

A day after the 5th Circuit announced its ruling against the Obama administration’s executive actions on immigration, immigrant rights leaders said now is the time to act.

“We are not going to sit around and wait for a court ruling. We will not let right-wing judges or right-wing states determine what happens to the fate of our communities,” Annette Wong, program manager with Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) told reporters at an ethnic media news briefing organized by New America Media. The roundtable was part of an effort by the statewide coalition Ready California to encourage residents to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

One year ago, President Obama announced two new programs through executive action – an expansion of the DACA program and a new program for parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, or DAPA. Those programs remain on hold following Monday’s court ruling, the latest decision following a lawsuit brought by 26 Republican-led states against the Obama administration.

The Obama administration is expected to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court in the next few weeks. If the Supreme Court takes the case, it will likely announce a decision in June.

But while those two programs remain on hold, immigrant rights advocates said there are steps that families can take now to secure their future.

“It doesn’t matter what status someone has; there are actions they can take,” said Juan Ortiz, staff attorney with the International Institute of the Bay Area (IIBA).

U.S. citizens can register to vote; eligible green card holders can apply for citizenship. Undocumented California residents can apply for a driver’s license under AB 60, noted Ortiz.

Next May, undocumented children in California will be able to access full-scope Medi-Cal. California parents can start enrolling their kids now in Restricted Medi-Cal (sometimes called Emergency Medi-Cal), regardless of their immigration status.

Parents of U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents can start preparing their documents so they will be ready when DAPA goes into effect.

And, most importantly, people can still apply for the original DACA program that was announced in 2012.

It’s important to understand that Monday’s ruling does not affect DACA, noted Sally Kinoshita, deputy director of Immigrant Legal Resource Center. That program remains in effect and continues to help undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children get work permits, social security numbers and a temporary reprieve from deportation.

Ortiz advised families to go to a trusted community based organization for an immigration check-up to see what they might qualify for. In fact, he said, almost 15 percent of people who apply for DACA end up qualifying for something else, like a U-Visa (granted to victims of crimes) or a T-Visa (granted to trafficking victims).

Meanwhile, several DACA recipients speaking at the briefing encouraged their community members to apply for the program so they could access all of its benefits – not only a social security number, a work permit and a reprieve from deportation, but also the stability and security to stand up and advocate for the rights of others in their communities.

For Mexican American DACA recipient Luis Avalos, getting DACA was “ a shining light in a dark tunnel of uncertainty,” allowing him to work legally and stop being afraid of deportation.

Avalos, 22, is now the chair of the San Francisco Youth Commission and advises the mayor and board of supervisors on issues of concern to young people. In order to be appointed to the commission, Avalos needed a social security number.

“I wouldn’t be able to be part of the San Francisco Youth Commission without DACA,” he said.

For Hong Mei Pang, a community organizer with ASPIRE, getting DACA was “a pivotal moment” in her life.

Pang, who came to the United States from Singapore 12 years ago, said before DACA was announced in 2012, she was “working three jobs under the table in abusive, exploitative conditions.” DACA allowed her to get work authorization and step out of the shadows.

Today she advocates against deportations that continue to separate families. “Being able to participate in community organizing,” she said, “means we are able to hold each other up.”

Meanwhile, for Brian Cheong, DACA might have saved his life.

Cheong, who moved here from South Korea 12 years ago, was the leader of his high school’s marching unit, graduated at the top of the class, and was awarded the Outstanding Student Award, given to one graduating senior each year.

When he went to college, he said, “that’s when my life turned a little downward.”

As an undocumented immigrant, he was forced to pay out-of-state tuition. In order to pay out-of-state tuition, he had to get a job. But because he was undocumented, he didn’t have a permit to work legally.

“On top of that,” he said, “the fear of deportation followed me everywhere I went. You never know if when you’re sleeping or working if people are going to come and capture you.”

“I started to question my life,” he said, “and whether it was worth it to continue.”

When DACA was launched in 2012, Cheong said there was never any question that he would apply for it. Getting DACA allowed him to work legally and have a secure source of income for tuition, removed the fear of deportation, helped him regain confidence in life, and allowed him to feel stable and secure for the first time in a long time.

“I’m the type of person that likes to plan ahead, and I couldn’t do that before DACA,” Cheong explained.

Today, Cheong is in a military program called MAVNI, a special program that could allow DACA recipients with certain skills to gain something that they otherwise would not be able to access – a path to citizenship. Cheong plans to eventually petition for his parents and family, who are currently left out of immigration reform.

To other young people who are living without legal status, Cheong had a simple message: “You are not alone.”

“Get up, speak up, advocate and educate,” he said, “not just for DAPA [Deferred Action for Parents of Americans] but for CIR [comprehensive immigration reform] as well.”

For more information about Ready California, visit

African Immigrants Express Frustration Over Driver’s License Hurdles

OAKLAND, Calif. – African immigrants in the Bay Area are upset that many of them have to go through a secondary review process in order to apply for a California driver’s license under AB 60.

But DMV officials say the reason some countries don’t appear on the list of acceptable passports has to do with security requirements, not geography.

At a recent forum in Oakland with DMV officials, several African immigrants said they didn’t understand why they were sent into secondary review. Attendees asked why more than half of African countries were not on the list of acceptable passports, leaving their nationals to provide more documentation in order to apply for a driver’s license.

Ekow Croffiie, an Oakland resident originally from Ghana, pulled out his passport and birth certificate, saying he had been in secondary review for months.

“Every time I call, they say, ‘You should wait for 90 days,’” said Coffie. “I’m just frustrated because I have a family, my wife doesn’t drive, and my kids have to go to school.”

Adoubou Traore, project director of the African Advocacy Network in San Francisco, has been meeting with DMV officials to answer some of the questions and concerns that he hears in his community.

“They contacted us,” Traore said about the recent forum in Oakland, one of more than 200 public forums the DMV has held across the state to provide information about how to apply for a license. Traore saw that as a hopeful sign. “It shows that there’s a will to see this issue taken care of.”

Still, he said, “You could feel people’s frustration.”

Since January 2015, the DMV has issued more than 500,000 driver’s licenses to unauthorized immigrants in California under AB 60. To be eligible, they must provide proof of identity and California residency, as well as pass all required tests.

Passports and other documents accepted by the DMV must meet all of the standards of security. This includes questions like how easy it is to forge a passport, and how the country verifies people’s identities.

Mexican nationals, whose country has a security agreement with the DMV, need only present one document to prove their identity. This can include a Mexican passport issued in 2008 or later, a Mexican consular card (matricula consular) or a 2013 Mexican federal electoral card (Instituto Federal Electoral Credencial para Votar).

A second group, including those from some other Latin American countries and those whose passports are approved by the DMV, needs to present two documents.

Those who do not fall into either of the first two groups, including nationals of many African and Asian countries, are sent to secondary review, where they are asked to provide additional documents to verify their identity.

According to the DMV, a majority of those who have been sent to secondary review in January and February have gotten approval to move forward with their application.

But Armando Botello, deputy director of the DMV’s Office of Public Affairs in Sacramento, noted that the number of applications that required a secondary review exceeded the DMV’s expectations. As a result, the wait time in some cases exceeded four months.

“To everyone who has been waiting for their secondary review,” Botello said, “we apologize and ask them to be patient.”

Traore said he plans to continue to meet with DMV officials to help more African immigrants take advantage of AB 60.

“Education is needed on both sides,” Traore said. “It’s in everyone’s interest,” he said, to allow people to apply for a driver’s license – not only for those who get a driver’s license through AB 60, but for the safety of everyone sharing the road.

For more information about how to apply for a California driver’s license under AB 60, go

Knowing Workers Rights Key for API Immigrant Women


By Ronvel Sharper | Photo, Sean Kirkpatrick

Knowing your rights in the workplace can be the difference between being exploited and getting a living wage. That was a key message for women immigrants at the third annual API Women’s Summit that took place in September in Oakland.

“The most common problem we see is [immigrant women] working really long hours without the proper hourly pay, such as overtime and in some cases, double overtime,” said David Ta, an attorney with the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, during a workshop at the summit. The event, organized by the non-profit organization Community Health for Asian Americans, drew about 120 women attendees originally from countries that included Tibet, Cambodia, Burma, Vietnam and Mongolia.

Ta said he is especially concerned about women falling victim to hourly wage, meal and rest-break abuses.

“It’s important for people to know that there are resources out there to help enforce labor laws. Nonprofits like the Asian Law Caucus help with workers’ rights issues, and government agencies like the Department of Labor and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement help with workplace rights,” said Ta. “We let workers and people entering the workforce know that there are labor laws designed to protect those in poverty.”

When you know your rights, Ta said, you can ensure that you receive fair treatment at work, and know where to get help if you need it.

Here are a few tips for workers:

– Always know what the minimum wage is in your area. All employers are required by law to pay their workers at least the minimum wage. This is true for every worker in the United States, no matter where they were born or what their nationality is.

– You should always get paid for every hour you work.

– With every four hours of work, employees receive a 30-minute, uninterrupted break.

–  Tips belong to the person they’re intended for, unless an employee takes part in a mandatory tipping pool, in which the wait staff, chef and kitchen staff share tips.

– If an employee is injured during work, that employee is eligible for worker’s compensation.

– A new law in California says for every 30 hours of work, an employee gets an hour of sick leave. An employer cannot fire employees or demote them during this sick time.

For more information on workers’ rights visit

California Governor Signs Health for All Kids Bill



News Report, Viji Sundaram, New America Media

Photo courtesy of the Office of Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens.

In May 2016, California will become the fifth state to allow undocumented children from low-income families to enroll in comprehensive health care.

Gov. Brown signed legislation Friday that will allow 170,000 undocumented children to smoothly transition from restricted scope Emergency Medi-Cal (the state’s name for Medicaid) to full-scope coverage, by removing barriers to re-applying or re-enrolling. It will also let children with severe and chronic illnesses stay in specialty care.

Once undocumented children enroll in comprehensive Medi-Cal, they will be able to take advantage of preventive services and not have to wait until a medical emergency to seek care.

Earlier this year, the governor allocated $40 million for health care coverage for undocumented children through the Health for All Kids program initiated by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, while committing an allocation of $132 million for each subsequent year.

“When I began the effort to expand health care coverage to undocumented Californians, many people said it couldn’t get done,” Sen. Lara said in a press release. “Just a year later, we are covering all undocumented children, becoming the largest state to do so.”

He said the victory will send a message across the country “that says compassion should always trump bigotry when we’re talking about our immigrant population.” Lara noted that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act excluded undocumented immigrants.

Tanya Broder, a staff attorney with the National Immigration Law Center in its Oakland office, said she was happy that California took this step.

“I look forward to continuing the conversation about the need to cover everyone in California,” she said.

That conversation is expected to resume early next year when Lara’s SB 10 bill, aimed at providing health coverage to the state’s 1.5 million or so undocumented adults, will be taken up by the legislature. The bill will provide health care coverage through a capped Medi-Cal enrollment program, and seek a federal waiver so undocumented residents can purchase health insurance on the state’s online marketplace exchange, Covered California, using their own money.

The other states that currently provide comprehensive health care to children, regardless of their immigration status, are Massachusetts, Illinois, Washington and New York, as well as the District of Columbia.

Earlier this year, Sacramento, Contra Costa, and Monterey counties, along with the County Medical Services Program that serves 35 small and rural counties in California, launched pilot programs to provide limited health benefits to their remaining uninsured, regardless of their immigration status.

“Californians increasingly recognize it is more efficient and effective to offer primary, preventive and specialty care on the front end rather than just expensive emergency and episodic care when it may be too late,” observed Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a statewide health advocacy coalition.

Q&A: Navigating High School When You Don’t Speak the Language


Interview, RP Editors

Editor’s Note: Richmond High School tutor Ivan Rodriguez helps more than 100 students who don’t speak English understand their teachers and get through high school. Most of the students are from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.

Richmond Pulse: How did you start doing this work?

Ivan Rodriguez: I came to this country when I was 16 and came to Richmond High School. When I graduated from high school I went to Contra Costa College to learn English — because I didn’t learn a lot of English in high school — and from there I transferred to [the University of California at] Berkeley, where I got my bachelor’s in organizational behavior.

First I wanted to be a businessman. I even started working for a law firm. But I noticed they didn’t take the cases if people did not have the money to pay, so I’ve seen people do a lot of work for selfish reasons. I wanted to work for a non-profit and work with youth and work on something related to education, and with kids who are in the high school-to-college transition.

I wanted to work with my community, because I saw there was a lack of attention to ELD [English Language Development] students when it came to preparing them for college.

RP: What are the some biggest challenges that your ELD students face?

IR: Some of the kids come from countries where they never went to school and they do not know how to read in their native language. It is difficult, because the school doesn’t have someone to teach them basic skills. This makes kids fall behind, and they cannot keep up with the curriculum.

Some of the students are forced to come to school because they are still under 18 — maybe they came to the U.S. to work, but because they are underage they have to go to school. Sometimes that creates a behavioral problem, one we are facing right now. Someone needs to be the bridge between them and the other students in the school. That is what I am doing right now. I am that link between the administration and them, because they come to me to see if I can help them. I am their way of communication.

RP: What is your approach to tutoring?

IR: I need a small group, to be able to pay more individual attention to them. If they have a test coming up, I sometimes pull them out of other classes like physical education to have a review session, or meet them during lunch. We have a club called Alma Latina [Latin Soul], and this club gives them a voice and also has an academic part to it — we meet after school and go over basic English and vocabulary, so we help them acquire more knowledge about the language.

RP: How is teaching recently arrived immigrant students different from teaching other students?

IR: One of the things I have noticed is that the ELD students came here for a reason. They try to learn; they have more respect for the teachers. They want to learn but don’t always get the chance. But because the kids do not speak English, they do not get involved in regular activities, they never get information about college and they do not get other resources on campus.

RP: What are the most important skills your students need to be able to go to college? Are they getting these things here?

IR: Students need to learn English, but they need four years of English to be able to get into a four-year college, and ELD does not count as an English credit — only the last level of the program counts. Basically, an ELD student needs to work extremely hard their freshman year to get out of ELD, which is almost impossible.

So, ELD fills the requirement for high school graduation but does not fulfill the requirement for college. That is a big challenge for all of us. That was the case for me — I applied to some colleges, but didn’t get in because I was lacking those requirements.

Also, since they do not speak English, they do not get involved in different programs that make you a stronger candidate for college. They do not learn about all the scholarships and financial aid that is available. Some of the students think they cannot go to college because they do not have papers, which is not the case.

Right now I am working with the community college here to help be an example to students, to let them know they can still go to a community college and then transfer to a four-year college later.

County Supervisors Expand Health Care For Undocumented Immigrants



By Melvin Willis | Photo courtesy: Anthony Wright

Contra Costa County supervisors voted 4-1 on Sept. 22 to enact a new pilot program that — pending matching funds from local hospitals — would provide health care coverage to potentially thousands of undocumented immigrants for the next year.

An estimated 19,000 Contra Costa County residents remain without health coverage despite President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act. Now Contra Costa County, like San Francisco and Los Angeles counties before it, will narrow this gap with a program designed to cover an additional 3,000 adults, regardless of their immigration status.

County supervisors designated $500,000 to launch the program this coming November, with similar matching funds expected to come from area hosiptals. The program intends to provide basic, preventative and non-emergency care to uninsured adults for a year.

Lydia Arizmendi, a 52-year-old Richmond resident and member of the community group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, is one of them.

“I have not been able to get checked out by a doctor because the out-of-pocket costs at the clinic are too expensive,” said Arizmendi, who has been living with diabetes and kidney pain for more than a year.

Arizmendi works as a janitor, cleaning fast-food restaurants. She said that some days her pain from diabetes becomes so bad that she can’t get out of bed to go to work. But because of her undocumented status, she can’t receive the care she needs, and remains afraid that she could end up in an emergency room or lose her life to a preventable illness.

“Health care for all means that I could benefit from regular doctor visits,” she said. “With my condition, that could mean the difference between maintaining my health or a costly emergency visit that I’m afraid would be a huge burden on me and my family.”

The new pilot program will be available to Contra Costa County residents 18 and older who remain uninsured and not eligible for full-scope Medi-Cal or the Covered California exchange created through Obamacare. Household annual income must not exceed 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,105 for an individual; $32,913 for a family of four).

Four participating community health centers — La Clinica de la Raza, LifeLong Medical Care, Axis Health and Brighter Beginnings — would provide primary care services to participants. Planned Parenthood of Northern California would also provide limited services.

Health care advocates argue that lack of coverage doesn’t only hurt people’s health; it can also hurt California’s economy. A 2009 Center for American Progress report found that lack of insurance cost the California economy between $18.3 and $36.7 billion in lost productivity that year.

Support for providing health care, regardless of immigration status, has also grown in recent years. According to a recent Field Poll, 58 percent of registered voters think California should provide Medi-Cal to all undocumented immigrants.

“Today was a huge victory in bridging the gap of health equity in Contra Costa County,” said Alvaro Fuentes, executive director of the Community Clinic Consortium, which represents community health centers in Contra Costa County. “The vote today echoes the voices of thousands of individuals — locally and statewide — committed to improving the health of their communities by ensuring that everyone has access to quality and affordable health care.”

Melvin Willis is an organizer with ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment)

How a Dreamer Fell Through The Cracks

 Photo by Andres Reyes

If someone asked me what the proudest moment of my life has been, without a doubt I’d say the moment I received an acceptance letter from UC Davis. I vividly recall sprinting to the garage to tell my parents the big news. Two years later, I found myself back home in Merced, deep in student debt and without a degree, reflecting on where it all went wrong.

I was born in Mexico and came to this country when I was two years old. I am part of the generation known as Dreamers, undocumented students who were brought to this country by their parents at a young age. As I got closer to graduating high school, I was very aware that I would not be able to get financial aid and that my options for paying for higher education were very limited.

I was a good student at Golden Valley High School in Merced and received high grades in most of my classes, graduating with a 3.8 cumulative GPA. My worry was not as much that I wouldn’t get accepted to college, but that I wouldn’t be able to pay for it. My parents told me not to worry and just apply. A few teachers and counselors assured me that there are always opportunities. Thanks to the passage of the Dream Act in 2011, I could now receive financial aid.

But I found myself caught in a grey area. I got accepted into UC Davis in the fall of 2012 but the Dream Act, which allowed me to receive state financial aid, did not go into effect until January 2013. This meant I had to pay a quarter’s worth of studies out of my own pocket.

I applied for scholarship after scholarship and wrote essay after essay. It was an effort that took up a lot of my time, but it was worth it because I won enough local scholarships to pay for the complete tuition for the first quarter.

Everything at UC Davis started out well: I met new people, maintained decent grades, and was generally positive about the new experience of college. However, unbeknownst to me, my personal foundation began to crack during my first quarter and it was only a matter of time until the problems that were piled up spilled over.

I didn’t take into account the cost of living in Davis and had only enough money to pay for my tuition. I had to start relying on my parents for food and rent, knowing very well that my dad, a low-income construction laborer, already had to care for my three younger siblings. Knowing that I was spending money that my family needed weighed down on my shoulders but I tried to ignore it.

An added stressor was choosing a major. At first I wanted to study English, then neuroscience, and then something else and so on. Different majors kept grabbing my attention and I took courses I later regretted.

I was in social isolation as well. I made some superficial friendships but nothing real. I considered joining clubs to get out of my comfort zone but never committed to it, always telling myself that I should focus on what I was there to do––pass my classes.

By the second quarter, the stress began to take a toll. I was finally receiving financial aid, which helped, but my personal expenses still remained an issue. Rent checks began to bounce and despite my father’s attempts to reassure me that we would solve the problem, I could not help but worry. My grades started to suffer in some classes and it made me more negative, beginning a cycle of isolation and stress. I was often triggered by the fear of failure and loneliness.

I isolated myself even further. Leaving my apartment felt like a chore and all I wanted to do was remain within the sanctuary of my home. This mentality was self-destructive and earned me a meeting at the probation office because my grades had put me in academic risk.

When I entered the counselor’s office, I shared all my troubles with her and confessed to being on the brink of depression. She asked if I felt better and I said yes. She made me sign a form that said we had discussed this and told me that if I ever felt the same way again, I should go seek more counseling at student health services. It felt great to share my struggle with someone and I left feeling like I was ready to handle my business.

My third quarter started and I was trying my best to recover academically. Somewhere down the road, I cracked. My grades declined sharply. I started skipping some classes and I completely isolated myself from everyone. I’m not sure what made me slip, but once I slipped I never got back up.

My mother noticed I started calling less and less, but I assured her that everything was ok. It may be because of the culture I grew up in, but I never felt comfortable to share my personal problems. I’ve always kept those to myself and that remained true in those months.

I was in denial about my situation– I sometimes considered seeking help like the probation counselor had recommended, but I never went through with it. I think it was because of the stigma I felt around depression. My grades were at an all time low and I decided to drop out.

After the quarter was over, I had to tell my parents what happened. It wasn’t easy but my silence could not continue. Their reaction was supportive, but I could still feel the disappointment lying under the surface. I wanted them to shout, but they didn’t. They were good listeners and it was probably the most honest conversation I’ve ever had with them. I told them all the problems that I had until then kept to myself. It was a vulnerable moment that I needed in order to start my road to recovery

The UC Davis administration informed that I had to return my financial aid for that last spring quarter because of my academic performance. I owed them about $3000 that I did not have. Until I pay them back, my registration remains on hold and I cannot attend a UC school.

I feel responsible and I’m committed to paying my debt in full. I decided to move back to Merced and attend community college until I saved enough to pay back my debt and could return to a UC. However, finding a job in Merced that will work with a college schedule is difficult and my debt weighs down on me constantly.

I was initially cynical about attending community college, thinking I was downgrading from UC Davis, but it’s been a great experience so far. Rather than remain in solitude, I made the decision to join Movimento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan upon enrolling, a club that focuses on empowering Chicanos known as MEChA, and I have benefited greatly from it. My self-esteem has slowly climbed back up and my grades have improved as well.

I’ve decided to study economics and I want to use that to do something to help poor working class families, like mine. After one year, I became the president of the MEChA and I also joined student government. I want to use this momentum to land me back on track and continue my studies at a UC.

I now admit that I was naïve when I was at Davis. I was young, which is a strange thing to say considering that I’m only three years older now. I didn’t realize the weight I was carrying or how much it would wear me down. I felt pressured and feared failure above everything. I was afraid of not being able to afford college and was afraid of being alone.

I feel like more regular sessions with the academic counselor or some other kind of support would have helped me stay grounded in the long run. A one-time visit provided relief momentarily but looking back, I can see now how that just wasn’t enough for me.

Now that I’m back in Merced, I have been challenging myself to leave my comfort zone and I feel that I have matured a lot over these past couple of years. Being at home with the moral support of family and friends has made this easier for me.

Being smart isn’t the only ingredient for college success. Having enough financial aid isn’t the only factor either. Succeeding in college, like in any other part of life, relies on the right combination of many ingredients. And one of those ingredients is knowing when to reach out for help–so you don’t slip through the cracks, as I did.

Immigration Relief Increasing Health Coverage; CA Kids Eligible Now


News Report, Anna Challet | New America Media

In California, hundreds of thousands of kids in immigrant families are eligible for Medi-Cal but not enrolled, according to a new study from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families.

Some of them are kids who have undocumented parents, but who are themselves citizens or lawfully residing. Some of them are eligible for the DACA program but haven’t applied (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows some undocumented individuals who came to United States as children to qualify for work permits and deportation relief). In California, if you qualify for DACA, you qualify for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program.

So even though broader immigration relief is still on hold, for many families in California there’s no reason to wait for health coverage.

“As we wait for immigration reform to take effect, there’s still a number of kids in immigrant families in California that are eligible for coverage now,” says Sonya Schwartz, a research fellow at Georgetown and one of the authors of the study. “There’s up to about 400,000 kids who are eligible right now who we could be enrolling in programs.”

According to the report, over 200,000 youth could gain state-funded Medi-Cal if they sign up for the DACA program and are low-income. And another 223,000 citizen and lawfully residing children whose parents are undocumented could be signed up for Medi-Cal now.

There are a variety of reasons why kids in the latter group might not be signed up already, says Schwartz.

“Immigrant families have additional barriers to getting into programs that others don’t necessarily face,” she says. “There can be fears about immigration status and information you have to share about yourself, even though there are protections for parents who don’t want to share personal information.”

“There are so many citizen kids and lawfully residing kids who are living with immigrant parents, and they’re just hard to reach because parents are busy working two jobs, they’re not necessarily native English speakers, they might not know what’s available,” she adds. “Or you might have a family where there’s an older child who is undocumented who was born abroad, and then kids born here after that who are eligible for coverage, and parents may not want to just enroll one.”

An additional 170,000 undocumented children will become eligible for Medi-Cal as early as May 2016. Earlier this year, Governor Jerry Brown announced a budget allocation that will provide health coverage for all of the state’s kids in low-income families, regardless of immigration status.

What’s still uncertain is the future of immigration programs for children and families created by President Obama’s executive action in November 2014. A new program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), stands to allow some 600,000 immigrant parents in California to gain work permits and deportation relief – and they’ll qualify for Medi-Cal if they meet the income requirements.

Schwartz says that parents getting immigration relief makes them more likely to obtain health coverage for their children, because they don’t fear exposing their status.

The executive action also expanded the DACA program by removing the age cap. Schwartz’s study estimates that some 55,000 individuals who will qualify for expanded DACA are uninsured and will likely qualify for Medi-Cal.

The programs are on hold, though. A judge in Texas put in place a preliminary injunction that stopped their implementation, and a resolution won’t come until next year.

All told, over a million Californians could gain access to coverage if and when immigration relief goes into effect.

“Four hundred thousand kids in California could be eligible now for coverage, and then another 170,000 more kids in May, and then hundreds of thousands of parents and older kids when immigration reforms make their way through the courts,” says Schwartz. “It’s huge.”

Undocumented Kids to Get Health Coverage in State Budget

Calling it one of the “best” budgets the state has ever had, California Gov. Jerry Brown said the $167.6 billion dollar budget the legislature passed Tuesday would pump more money into child care and education, pay down the state’s debt by $1.9 billion and provide health care for its undocumented children.

“This is just one step and we need to do more,” Brown said during a press conference, referring to the $40 million budgetary allocation for providing health insurance to an estimated 170,000 undocumented children in the state  through Medi-Cal – California’s name for Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people.

A jubilant Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, called the $40 million allocation a “modest investment in health care that will be transformational in the lives of not only children,” but also their families and the community as a whole.

He noted that the budget deal “affirms our commitment to embrace and integrate our immigrant community, to lead where the federal government has failed and to acknowledge the hard work and sacrifice of a community that contributes billions of dollars” to the state’s economy.

“This expansion of coverage to all children regardless of immigration status would make California’s children healthier, our health system stronger, and our families and communities more financially secure,” asserted Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition.

Lara’s own Health for All bill (SB 4) will provide health insurance for all Californians regardless of their immigration status. It is now before the Assembly, after it cleared the Senate last month. If it is signed into law, California would be the first state in the country to provide state-funded health insurance to its undocumented residents.

The original intent of SB 4 was to provide health care for the state’s nearly 1.5 million undocumented residents, both adults and children, either through Medi-Cal or by allowing them to purchase health insurance on the state’s exchange. But the state must first seek a waiver from the federal government to allow them to purchase health insurance on the state’s exchange, Covered California. The Affordable Care Act prevents undocumented U.S. residents from any federally funded health insurance program. The waiver will be sought if SB 4 passes.

According to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and University of California in Los Angeles, expanding Medi-Cal to undocumented California residents, under Lara’s bill,  would  have cost the state between $353 and $369 million annually, representing a 2 percent increase from what it currently spends. But now that the state has approved $40 million in its budget to provide insurance for its undocumented children, the Medi-Cal cost in Lara’s bill will go down.

“It would also provide the momentum for SB 4 to move forward,” Wright said.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, who participated alongside the governor in the press conference and had backed SB 4 since it was introduced in the Senate late last year, said Washington’s inaction has caused “financial consequences throughout the country.”

Lara’s bill, he said, will send a “very strong message” to lawmakers in Washington who have “dithered” on immigration reform.

The governor’s remark that more needs to be done, including how to address the low Medi-Cal reimbursement rates – among the lowest in the nation — will be discussed in a special session in a few weeks.

Brown said that his office would be hiring an immigration coordinator to assist youth who have been granted temporary relief from deportation under President Obama’s executive action of 2012. One million more California residents could become eligible for deportation relief if the federal courts allow Obama’s 2014 executive action to move forward.

California Farmworker: Picking Peas Should Bring a Better Life

Editor”s note
: In this last installment in a three part series on California farmworkers by NAM contributor, David Bacon, an undocumented Triqui Indian farmworker in Greenfield, Ca., speaks of poverty and health problems as the result of long hours working in the fields. Her story, as told to Bacon, helps contextualize the struggles of many farmworkers in California who are working at a time of the drought and dwindling jobs availabilities, and without health care.

I’m Triqui, from Rio Venado in Oaxaca. I’ve been here 7 years, working in the fields all the time. Right now I’m picking peas. Other times in the year I work in the broccoli.

The worst part about working in the peas is that you have to work on your knees. After a day on your knees they hurt a lot, and when you stop it’s hard to extend your leg. It hurts, even when they give you a break for 15 minutes every two hours. I don’t take pills for the pain, but I know many people who do.

Sometimes your knees break down. That’s happened to a lot of people. Their knees go out permanently and they can’t work anymore.

Another problem is the dust, which has chemicals in it. Until two years ago they didn’t give you glasses to keep the dust out. Now they do, but by now most people who work in the peas have problems with their eyes.

What they pay us is not fair. They want you to pick 130 pounds in ten hours, and the piece rate is 45¢, so we make very little. The hourly wage is supposed to be $9.50 per hour, but when you’re working on the piece rate it’s less. You can make $100 in a day sometimes, but other times it’s $80 or $70. It depends on how much you can pick.

I have a family I have to support. There are six of us — myself and my husband, and our four children. These wages aren’t enough. We live in an apartment and have to pay rent, electricity and food. The little they pay us doesn’t cover it.

It’s a disaster if anyone gets sick because we don’t have any insurance. If it’s not really bad we don’t go to the doctor. But if it’s really serious we have to, and then we end up owing a lot of money. We’re just now recovering from the last time we had to do this. We had to take one of the kids and didn’t have the money to pay.

Normally we get six months every year when we can work all the time. Other times work is hard to find. A paycheck for a week is $300, or even $100. When the work is good we try to save a little for the times when work slows down.

The majority of the people in my crew are Triqui. There are also Mixtecos, and people who speak Spanish. Almost everyone is indigenous.

The Triqui people don’t agree with the low wages. We want a salary that our work deserves. The boss now says they have a water crisis, but I really think he says this to intimidate us. When we complain about the wages they tell us, “If you want to work, there’s the work, and if you don’t, so what?” What can we do?

If people get together and demand more, I think things could change. But instead we stay quiet. Many of my coworkers are afraid they’ll lose their jobs.

I heard about what was happening in San Quintin on Facebook [when thousands of indigenous Triqui and Mixtec farm workers went on strike in Baja California this spring]. I worked down there for a number of years, picking tomatoes. They paid really low there. I think what they did there was really good. They tried to do something for themselves.

We agree with what they did. We come from the same towns. We’re brothers. We are the same community. We are indigenous people, and we have to do whatever we can to keep our children eating, no matter what they pay. But if we don’t work and harvest the crops, there’s nothing for the growers either.

We are thinking of doing something like they did in San Quintin. What we demand from the growers is that they recognize that just as we work for them they should work for us. Things should be more equal between us.

I’m going to keep working in the fields, because I have no other work. But I don’t want my children to work in the fields. We’re doing it so that our children can leave the fields and move forward. I want to give them a better life.

See part I and II here: 

Thousands of Farmworkers in California Can’t Make a Living

Triqui Farmworkers Struggle to Survive and Organize in California