Giving Compass' Take:

• Rikha Sharma Rani shares how Los Angeles County is planning to support immigrant workers and businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

• What role can you play in supporting those most impacted by the pandemic? Can your county learn from the efforts of Los Angeles County?

• Find funds supporting immigrants and refugees

L.A. County has more than 3.6 million immigrants, a third of the population, according to a recent report from the University of Southern California. Immigrants are critical to the success of the county’s economy: They make up 44% of its workforce. And although they’re drivers of the economy, most of those in the workforce live in poverty: Half of immigrants and more than two-thirds of undocumented Angelenos live below the federal poverty guideline—by 200%.

To help immigrants learn about and access countywide services available to them (including renters’ protections, immigration legal representation, and medical health), the county established the Office of Immigrant Affairs in 2017. Before the pandemic, OIA would receive an average of 100 calls a week, according to Michael Nobleza, an executive fellow of the national nonprofit FUSE, which partners with local governments such as OIA. In the first week after Californians began sheltering in place, 1,500 calls came in.

This spike in demand was a clear signal to OIA that immigrant communities needed more urgent help.

In May, the agency began drafting the L.A. Immigrant Essential Workers Initiative to ensure that immigrant businesses and workers, whose hardships have been heightened during the pandemic, are included in economic recovery efforts. OIA acts as an adviser to other county agencies, so the Essential Workers Initiative focuses on raising awareness of immigrant issues, such as exclusion from certain federal assistance and fear of accessing government services, and helping agencies develop culturally responsive policies that address these issues. OIA expects to recommend the initiative for adoption to the Board of Supervisors, which is the L.A. County governing body, this month.

The L.A. Immigrant Essential Workers Initiative encompasses three strategies. The first focuses on shaping public opinion by elevating immigrant issues, stories, and contributions, with a goal of rallying broad backing among residents and legislators for policies that support immigrant workers and businesses. Plans include the launch of a social media campaign focusing on the shortened response time for the 2020 Census.

The second strategy aims to catalyze anti-poverty policymaking in the county and calls for OIA to advise county supervisors on how to craft policies using an immigrant lens. For example, do some regulations make immigrants nervous about applying for assistance? Do language barriers prevent some immigrants from learning about available services? Recent changes to federal public charge rules (in which the use of public benefits, such as food stamps and public housing, might affect whether immigrants are granted green cards or visa extensions) also make it less likely that immigrants will seek public services. An immigrant lens could uncover such barriers and enable policymakers to take steps to mitigate them, such as partnering with community-based organizations and ethnic media on outreach or strengthening privacy protections. To help local policymakers adopt the approach, OIA is developing an immigrant equity toolkit.

With the third strategy, OIA aims to increase immigrants’ access to public services and engage the community around issues such as wage theft, worker safety, child care, and workforce development. The office has already connected some business owners, including Delgadillo, with modest hardship grants through local nonprofits.

Read the full article about Los Angeles' plan by Rikha Sharma Rani at YES! Magazine.