Santa Barbara’s Undocumented Community in Desperate Need of Help

Excluded from Most Financial Assistance Programs, Workers Have No Safety Net in Pandemic

Lucas Zucker is Policy and Communications Director for the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), a nonprofit community organization working to advance social, economic, and environmental justice in the Central Coast of California. | Credit: Paul Wellman

Especially hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in Santa Barbara, undocumented immigrants who work in sectors disproportionately affected, such as restaurants, service, and hospitality, are excluded from many of the state and federal financial relief programs. As a result, the undocumented community has had to rely, in great part, on private, nonprofit groups to survive, such as the 805 Undocufund. This Friday, an anonymous donor contributed $1 million to the fund in order to help mitigate the crisis, but according to immigrant advocates, that is not enough. 

Earlier in the week on Tuesday morning, nonprofit organizations working for immigrants’ rights hosted a teleconference with Santa Barbara officials to highlight the particular challenges faced by the undocumented community. Members of the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) and Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), called for more robust, systemic changes to the system. “This is a moment when immigrants’ rights and workers’ rights are more important than ever, and a lot of immigrant laborers have been left out of relief efforts,” said Lucas Zucker from CAUSE. 

“We’ve been encouraged by some of the acts of solidarity we’ve seen,” said Zucker. “We’ve had folks donate their stimulus checks to 805 Undocufund, using their checks to help those who don’t have that same access.” In the meeting, Santa Barbara mayor Cathy Murillo said, “We’re all in this together, but the reality is that not everyone is dealt the same hand.”


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While California Governor Gavin Newsom recently apportioned $75 million for economic relief for California’s undocumented community, advocacy groups point out that while the effort has been a godsend, it is also inadequate to meet the scale of the crisis. “Of course this was encouraging to see, and we’re grateful. But this is kind of like trying to put out a forest fire with a bucket of water,” said Zucker. “A lot of people out there don’t know that undocumented immigrants pay $3 billion in taxes to California each year, so it isn’t at all unreasonable that they should have access to this safety net they pay into.” 

According to the group, the governor’s fund only covers roughly one in four of California’s undocumented workers, and 805 Undocufund currently has a waitlist of around 7,000 people. To provide each of those people with a $1,200 check, the amount meted out in the stimulus checks from the federal government, would require more than $8 million. “Undocumented residents already have much less access to relief, such as the boosted unemployment benefits or the federal stimulus,” said Jonathan Abboud, a candidate for California’s 37th State Assembly District. “Kids need to have stable housing and food on the table as the recession unfolds.” 


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