Councilmembers Restart Conversation About Allowing Noncitizens to Vote in Santa Ana Elections

At least two Santa Ana councilmembers said they think local voters should decide if noncitizen residents in the city should be allowed to vote in local elections.

Noncitizen residents make up about 24% of Santa Ana’s population, and nearly 20% of Orange County’s noncitizen resident population lives in Santa Ana, city officials quoted from US Census Bureau statistics. Immigrant residents, including noncitizen residents, in Orange County contributed $10.5 billion in taxes in 2018, according to the American Immigration Council.

But noncitizens can’t vote for the local lawmakers who help set the policies affecting their everyday lives, councilmembers Johnathan Hernandez and Benjamin Vazquez said in requesting their City Council colleagues consider putting on the November 2024 ballot the question of allowing residents who are not U.S. citizens to vote in local elections. The City Council is set to decide at its Tuesday night meeting whether or not to direct city staff to look into the options.

“We know that the right to vote isn’t set in stone. It’s an open book and we’re fighting to push it forward,” Vazquez said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon before the meeting. “The founding fathers of this country could not have imagined a world where the Black community, (community) of color or women had the right to vote. We have won those rights. Now, we ask that you see immigrants for their humanity with the rights that give them a role in the government in which they live.”

At least two Santa Ana councilmembers said they think local voters should decide if noncitizen residents in the city should be allowed to vote in local elections.

Noncitizen residents make up about 24% of Santa Ana’s population, and nearly 20% of Orange County’s noncitizen resident population lives in Santa Ana, city officials quoted from US Census Bureau statistics. Immigrant residents, including noncitizen residents, in Orange County contributed $10.5 billion in taxes in 2018, according to the American Immigration Council.

But noncitizens can’t vote for the local lawmakers who help set the policies affecting their everyday lives, councilmembers Johnathan Hernandez and Benjamin Vazquez said in requesting their City Council colleagues consider putting on the November 2024 ballot the question of allowing residents who are not U.S. citizens to vote in local elections. The City Council is set to decide at its Tuesday night meeting whether or not to direct city staff to look into the options.

“We know that the right to vote isn’t set in stone. It’s an open book and we’re fighting to push it forward,” Vazquez said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon before the meeting. “The founding fathers of this country could not have imagined a world where the Black community, (community) of color or women had the right to vote. We have won those rights. Now, we ask that you see immigrants for their humanity with the rights that give them a role in the government in which they live.”

Now, the conversation “is not about whether the city of Santa Ana has the legal power to do it or not. Today is about whether they have the political will to do it,” said Carlos Perea, executive director at the Harbor Institute for Immigrant and Economic Justice, who participated at Tuesday’s press conference with the two councilmembers.

Santa Ana has already been a leader in protecting civil rights and its immigrant and refugee communities with recent policies and this would continue that momentum, Hernandez said.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

California Has New Benefits For Undocumented Immigrants. They’re Not enough, Workers Say

Paula Cortez Medrano has worked in the agriculture industry since she arrived in the U.S. over 25 years ago.

She’s labored in the heat of Fresno summers, picking onions, tomatoes, grapes, and garlic, as well as in the freezing temperatures of local produce packing houses, where she’d wear two layers of pants to stay warm while assembling frozen fruits and vegetables to be sold in grocery stores across the country.

She contracted COVID-19 during the pandemic and was sent home from work with only two weeks of paid sick leave. It took her 40 days to recover, but when she returned to her packing house job, she was turned away.

“They told me that they had no more work for me, that it was really slow,” she said in Spanish in an interview with The Bee.

The 66-year-old said she thinks she was turned away because of her age; they never called her back to work. Today, she sells tamales as a street vendor in central Fresno, earning an average of $80 a day, much less than the $15 per hour she earned in the packing house.

Because of workers like Cortez Medrano, California Democratic lawmakers want to extend unemployment benefits to undocumented workers, a proposal backed by a new report by the UC Merced Community and Labor Center which makes the case for why the California economy, workforce, and families would benefit.

Introduced last month by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, a Democrat from Coachella, and currently under review in the legislature, AB 2847 would create the Excluded Workers Pilot Program, a two-year program that would provide funds to undocumented workers who lose their job or have their hours reduced during the calendar year 2023. The proposal, estimated at $597 million, plus administrative costs, would allow qualifying, unemployed individuals to receive up to $300 a week for 20 weeks.

The report, released Thursday, argues that undocumented workers play a key role in California’s economy, contributing an estimated $3.7 billion in annual state and local tax revenues. Additionally, these workers hold one in 16 jobs in the state, many of whom were deemed “essential workers” during the COVID-19 pandemic because of the risks they took working in the agriculture fields, meatpacking houses, and other key industries.

An estimated 2 million undocumented individuals live in California with about 1.1 million of that population participating in the workforce.

Of the 1.6 million workers in the central San Joaquin Valley, an estimated 7% are undocumented, the report states.

Nearly 38% of noncitizen workers, and more than 61% of children living with noncitizen workers, live in households earning less than a living wage and face chronic and severe housing and food insecurity, the report states. “Unfortunately, such workers face high rates of extreme hardship and do not have access to unemployment benefits.”

The report concludes that the challenges facing undocumented workers are only likely to increase as a result of a number of environmental challenges like wildfires, earthquakes, extreme heat, and drought, piled on top of the ongoing public health crisis the state is already grappling with.

Cortez Medrano said access to unemployment benefits from a pilot program would be “la gloria,” or glory, and that she would use such funds to pay rent, bills, and buy food during her time without stable work.

“I need the help – urgently,” she said in Spanish. “It’s high time.”

Beyond access to unemployment Cortez, Medrano said what she really wants is a work permit to make her job search easier. “I can still work,” she said.

HIGH RISK, FEW SAFEGUARDS FOR UNDOCUMENTED WORKFORCE

UC Merced researchers found a relationship between in-person work, unemployment benefits usage, and the undocumented workforce.

Click here to read the full article at the Fresno Bee

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