At a time when our clients are the most vulnerable, California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF) advocates have stepped up from day one to do what is needed to protect the rights of rural communities. Within hours of Governor Newsom announcing the shelter-in-place mandates, CRLAF legislative advocates and project directors drafted a letter to the Governor calling for workplace protections for farmworkers and financial assistance for families affected by COVID-19 but ineligible for federal stimulus funds. When Governor Newsom announced that he was making available $75 million to provide disaster relief benefits for undocumented individuals, CRLAF was selected as one of the twelve organizations to screen individuals for Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants (DRAI) benefits and disburse close to $4.6 million to families in the eight northern counties of the Central Valley. CRLAF's letter to the Governor was shared with private funders who have also selected CRLAF to disburse an additional $400,000 to undocumented families. In these unprecedented times, CRLAF has stood out as a relentless leader, change agent, and premier community-centered legal service provider committed to championing the rights of essential workers and their families.
As we advocated for greater protections for our clients, we also took measures to protect our staff by closing our doors to the public while continuing to provide all services remotely. Even though the doors to our physical offices are temporarily closed to the public, CRLAF advocates have been working around the clock developing timely and culturally responsive information on COVID-benefits, Know Your Rights, and other important resources; advocating for worker and tenant protections, safe living conditions for H2-A workers, night lighting, wildfire protections, heat illness prevention, Health For All, and access to legal services; providing legal assistance to aggrieved workers and immigrants seeking to regularize their immigration status; and advocating to secure the release of individuals from ICE detention centers.
You will see from the report below that CRLAF advocates have done truly amazing work on behalf of rural poor families. It is an honor for me to work alongside these advocates for justice, whose skill and understanding about the issues that affect rural communities has earned them the respect and admiration of both our clients and the legal services community. It is also a privilege to work with clients who motivate us with their resilience and hope for a better tomorrow.
As we continue to respond to this global pandemic and ensure that the most vulnerable in our communities have the protections and support that they need, we thank you for your support. CRLAF is stronger because of our commitment to shared leadership, caring for and supporting each other, especially in the midst of such unforeseen challenges that threaten everyone's health and well-being, and our passion for justice. Thank you for standing with us; we are stronger together.
2020 has been filled with unprecedented challenges raised by a global pandemic that turned every aspect of our normal lives upside down and wildfires that have pushed low-wage workers into greater economic insecurity. At the same time, immigrant communities are still continuously targeted and live in constant fear of being forcibly separated due to the Trump Administration's relentless attacks on immigrants and communities of color.
Amagda Pérez, Executive Director
2020 IMPACT REPORT
California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation
CITIZENSHIP + IMMIGRATION
The 2019-2020 fiscal year required our team to be exceedingly nimble given the unique and serious needs that arose within the communities we serve due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our team worked extremely hard to tackle each challenge and be a source of reliable information and assistance during this unprecedented time.
The Immigration Unit’s collective work is organized across four different project areas: Citizenship and Immigration, Removal Defense, San Joaquin Immigrant Empowerment, and the Sacramento FUEL Network. This report reviews each project area’s accomplishments and programs over the past year and discusses our vision for the year to come.
As soon as California and its local governments began issuing shelter-in-place orders, our team developed and published a comprehensive guide to help undocumented and immigrant community members navigate the public health crisis. We updated this guide on a daily basis, made it available on the CRLAF website in both English and Spanish, and circulated it widely among our partners and networks throughout the Central Valley.
CRLAF was 1 of 12 organizations selected by the state of California to administer a $75 million relief fund, the Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants (DRAI), to undocumented immigrants who were not eligible to receive the federal government’s CARES Act relief. In the span of only 2 months, over 100 staff members, temporary hires, and volunteers processed over 9,500 DRAI applications and distributed over $4.5 million of $500 payments to 9,173 individuals in 8 Central Valley counties.
We also developed other partnerships and established our own Farm Worker Relief Fund to distribute additional, much-needed relief funds to 485 families including individuals who did not receive either CARES Act or DRAI relief.
Our removal defense work includes direct representation in detained and non-detained court cases as well as the coordination of the Sacramento Attorney of the Day Program at the Sacramento Immigration Court. The AOD program is only the second such program in the nation, providing a vital consultation and advice service for individuals without prior representation.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, our removal defense casework abruptly shifted focus toward more detained work. Our team took on the representation of 19 detainees, securing release and/or relief for 7 of them. Several of our detained clients that were released are still working with our attorneys toward relief in immigration court. Representation for each of these individuals was accomplished remotely through 30 minute-at-a-time telephone calls often with poor reception. Court hearings were also conducted via phone.
LABOR + EMPLOYMENT
CRLAF supported a number of critical measures that advanced worker protections in several areas: SB 1383 (which extends unpaid family leave protections to workers employed by employers of 5 or more); AB 2043 (which we tried to amend to provide private enforcement of CAL-OSHA COVID-19 guidances in agricultural occupations, but which was watered down by the author); AB 3053 (which creates an online portal for filing of wage claims); AB 3075 (which requires disclosure of whether any officer or director of a limited liability corporation has outstanding judgments for unpaid wages); and SB 1257 (which extends CAL/OSHA protections to household domestic workers).
Our major affirmative legislative effort was sponsorship of SB 1102 (Monning), which was not signed by the Governor. The bill would ensure that all H-2A farm workers admitted into the state of California are informed about fundamental labor, housing, health and safety and other California laws that protect them. All H-2A employers will be mandated by SB 1102 to disclose these protections in writing, in Spanish, on the workers’ first day of work. The bill is the culmination of our advocacy (and watchdog role) in monitoring deficiencies in the H-2A program in this state. No other state has enacted such a law to date.
PESTICIDE + WORKER SAFETY
Key achievements for 2020 include enactment of a regulation for lighting of night-time agricultural work, bringing forward the practice of granting permits for harvest work within fire evacuation zones in Sonoma county, and improving language access at County Agricultural Commissioners’ offices.
Protection from COVID-19 in agricultural and food processing workplaces
CRLAF has been working with community based organizations and other advocacy organizations to increase COVID-19 protections for farm workers. Through technical review of newly issued guidelines and research, advocating for increased enforcement, occupation-specific case reporting and development of a COVID-19 specific regulation that includes fieldworkers and packing house workers.
After months of work, on September 17, 2020 the Cal-OSHA Standards Board unanimously approved a petition for development of an emergency regulation for protecting workers from COVID-19 hazards. CRLAF will provide input on the rapid development of an emergency standard.
Protection of Agricultural and other outdoor Workers from Wildfire Smoke
As wildfires increased in size and frequency, a growing number of farmworkers and other outdoor workers were made to continue working in very smoky conditions without any respiratory protection or training. After petitioning the OSHA Standards Board, an emergency regulation was developed and approved in July 2019. The new regulation requires training of outdoor workers in health effects of smoke exposure, rescheduling or relocating work sites to less smoky conditions when possible, and provision of N95 respirators when the air is unhealthy because of wildfire smoke.
Last year we learned that Sonoma county was granting permits for grape harvest and other agricultural work within fire evacuation zones. We obtained copies of these permits through a public records request and shared this information with Cal-OSHA, Sonoma county worker advocates and the press. During the fire season this year, many farms permitted their farmworkers to continue harvesting despite Sonoma county’s evacuation zone orders.
HEALTHY + SUSTAINABLE RURAL COMMUNITIES
COVID-19 Rapid Response, and Recovery Efforts
The Sustainable Rural Communities Project was at the forefront of CRLAF’s COVID-19 rapid response relief efforts. In April 2020, CRLAF received a $50,000 grant from the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund to provide pro bono legal consultations to workers whose employment was affected by COVID-19, and to issue $20,000 in relief grants to mixed-status households in the San Joaquin Valley who were ineligible for the CARES Act stimulus and unemployment insurance benefits.
In April 2020, we were also granted $250,000 from the The California Endowment to conduct a COVID-19 emergency relief re-granting program to statewide CBOs working on the ground with disproportionately impacted farmworkers. Staff developed and implemented the re-granting program funding 10 CBOs to conduct outreach education, resource allocation and emergency relief. In May 2020, CRLAF convened a virtual meeting with state agencies and our partner CBOs to identify needs and address solutions related to testing, healthcare, food distribution, housing, income support, childcare, transportation and worker safety and protections.
CRLAF is providing support and resources to the collaborative, Health-4-Kern’s activities to expand health services to all; we are also providing technical assistance on key immigration issues, such as the proposed federal changes in the definition of public charge, and COVID-19 relief initiatives.
A fact sheet on the remaining uninsured in Kern County was developed and distributed to Health4Kern partners with estimates of immigrant and undocumented uninsured, coverage and services currently available, and options for expanding care and coverage at clinics and Kern Medical Center. The fact sheet was developed to accurately represent community needs, data and viable solutions and resources. Strategies for expanding coverage for undocumented farmworkers were also developed, but without reliable data, it was hard to estimate specific needs and costs in Kern County.
Health4Kern partners then developed an action plan for expanding care and coverage for the uninsured in early 2019. Health4Kern also worked alongside regional and statewide efforts to expand Medi-Cal eligibility to undocumented young adults aged 19-26. In January 2020, this legislation passed. That month the Governor’s budget also included expanding Medi-Cal eligibility to undocumented seniors ages 65 and over. However, the Governor's May revision dropped the planned expansion for seniors due to the COVID-19 emergency.
Finally, CRLAF recently prioritized and led a budget request to update a 20-year old study of farmworker health data. We gained final approval in the state budget for a 3-year study in the amount of $1.5 million. This data will be used to inform policy and demonstrate the severe inequities rural immigrants face, strengthening our argument for stronger health and safety protections for all client communities.
Safe Drinking Water
Since 2015, our team has administered an Interim Emergency Bottled Water program to the two unincorporated farmworker communities in western Fresno County with over 700 residents. We continue to advocate with the residents of Cantua Creek and El Porvenir for a permanent solution to the communities' need for clean, safe drinking water. We also work with California's Water Resources Control Board to ensure both communities continue to receive uninterrupted bottled water delivery until a permanent solution is reached.
Dreamers-in-Action: Building Community Capacity
This past year, SRCP hosted two Dreamers-in-Action Fellows (a.k.a. the Health, Immigration & Census Fellows). The fellows effectively promoted access to immigration relief and information about immigration laws to the rural poor while engaging in outreach and education related, but not limited to: Medi-Cal, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), local safety-net programs, and the 2020 Census. The fellows also advanced CRLAF’s regional efforts and collaborated with our Citizenship + Immigration Department on: (a) increasing the number of qualified legal permanent residents who apply for U.S. citizenship, (b) providing resources to help them with the naturalization process, and (c) encouraging them to become more fully civically engaged.
SAN JOAQUIN EMPOWERMENT PROJECT
Immigration and Health Law Project
The San Joaquin Immigrant Empowerment Project’s work centers around the complex intersection of health rights, public health, immigrants’ rights, and immigration law. During this fiscal year, we focused especially on providing immigration legal services, advocacy, education and outreach, and legal training. We also provided technical assistance to other community partners addressing two major challenges facing immigrant communities: the administration’s new public charge rule and the COVID-19 pandemic. This health and economic crisis has caused immigrant communities to confront various difficulties in regards to access to health care and testing, eligibility for public benefits, limited disaster relief options, and workers rights.
To remedy the chilling effect on public benefits enrollment created by the new public charge, CRLAF focused on community education, outreach and direct services. We spent the second half of this fiscal year ensuring that our public charge messaging was consistent with parallel messaging about how the pandemic has affected immigrant access to health care and social services, and what services immigrant communities legally have to access, regardless of immigration status.
Additionally, we provided regular immigration legal services to students, families and staff at Delta College and survivors of crime at a women’s center. Most of CRLAF’s immigration cases in this region are humanitarian cases, such as U visa, T visa, or VAWA applications. Currently, from San Joaquin to near Fresno county, CRLAF is the only organization taking these types of cases at no cost. Most of the individuals we serve do not have the means to hire a private attorney. There is a huge unmet need for attorneys to take on humanitarian aid cases pro bono in these regions. We plan to continue finding support for such work moving forward.
LABOR + CIVIL RIGHTS LITIGATION
Over the past year, we recovered over $450,000 in back wages and penalties through settlements of several wage and hour cases. We have also provided remote outreach and know-your-rights presentations on housing and employment. As part of our outreach work, this team created many infographics detailing how workers can access critical safety-net supports, including access to healthcare, food banks, and information on workers rights and protections under California law.
To address the COVID-19 related housing crisis and forthcoming wave of evictions, we are putting energy toward the creation of a remote legal aid housing clinic to assist mixed-status families, specifically around the Sacramento and Fresno regions.
The team continued working on its case docket, including three class action cases: two H-2A cases and one case representing nursery workers. The team was also able to resolve two employment cases and two housing cases representing farmworkers and dairy workers.
We collaborated with two other organizations on a brief submitted to the California Supreme Court titled Naranjo v. Spectrum Security Services, Inc. In it, we urged the Court to find that the premium pay under Section 226.7 are wages and must be included on wage statements and paid in full when an employee quits or is discharged. A decision finding otherwise chisels into the remedial protection frame worker existing for over a century, creating a crack in the foundation of protections supporting employees rights. We joined the amicus brief submitted to the California Supreme Court in Vazquez, et al., v. Jan-Pro Franchising International. The issue in Vazquez—whether Dynamex’s ABC test applies to the misclassification of janitors as franchisees—applies to our clients and is a similar tactic used by growers to avoid liability. Both of these cases are pending.
We also joined the amicus brief submitted to the district court and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Castillo, et al., v. Whitmer, et al., regarding an order issued by the Governor of Michigan requiring employers to test all farmworkers and migrant housing camps to test all residents for COVID-19. Growers found a couple of farmworkers to sign on as plaintiffs and challenge the Order as discriminatory towards Latinos. Both the district court and the Sixth Circuit denied the grower’s motion for preliminary injunction. The outcome of this case would have impacted other states’ orders protecting the safety and health of farmworkers. The case has been dismissed.
Finally, the team intervened in City of Huntington Beach v. State of California with Western Center on Law and Poverty to support the State against Huntington Beach’s challenge to two key pieces of house legislation. These two pieces declare that cities must accommodate high density housing. Huntington Beach challenged the State’s power to enforce this housing element law against them and other charter cities.