California Domestic Workers Coalition

The Nation, by Sasha Abramsky

“Immigrant workers give life, give a pulse, to our economy. We need to be taken into account.”

“I don’t have work right now. There is no work. I’ve been looking, but there’s no work out there,” says Ana, a 53-year-old garment worker in Los Angeles, who migrated from Mexico City just over 30 years ago. Then Ana, her brown hair flecked with gray and pulled back tightly in a bun, her tired eyes slightly watery behind oversized, brown-plastic-rimmed glasses, corrects herself. There’s work in supermarkets, she says softly, but when she applies, the first things they ask her for are her documents, her work permits. Since she is undocumented, these jobs are off-limits.

Thirty years ago, Ana remembers, she earned about $250 a week in the garment factories. Today, she still takes home about $250 a week in under-the-table earnings, but in the interim, “the cost of rent and so on has gone up.” Her family’s expectations of the American Dream have been curtailed. “We’ve learned to be frugal in this country. We’ve always had a pantry with dried goods—rice and beans. We eat the basics, nothing luxurious.”

These days, even the basics are a luxury. Ana’s husband, a construction worker, is still able to get some work, but only a little; and their adult children try to give them some assistance—but they are also struggling. Since they’re undocumented, the couple are ineligible for unemployment benefits. They cannot get food stamps, and the only health assistance they can receive is emergency Medi-Cal. Other than that, they are on their own. As a result, Ana and her husband have burned through their meager life savings since stay-in-place orders were put in place in mid-March to try to limit the spread of Covid-19. As the months without work continue, they worry about how to pay their bills come summer. While Governor Gavin Newsom has, by executive order, extended the deadline to give tenants more time to respond to eviction proceedings, he has not prevented new evictions from being filed; after that order expires, the back-rent will still have to be accounted for.