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01:28 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Undocumented immigrants aren’t getting stimulus checks from the federal government, but in California they’ll be eligible for cash payments from a $125 million coronavirus disaster relief fund.

“We feel a deep sense of gratitude for people that are in fear of deportation but are still addressing the essential needs of tens of millions of Californians,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said as he announced the new fund on Wednesday. “And that’s why I’m proud as governor to be the very first state to announce a program for direct disaster assistance to those individuals.”

The one-time benefit will provide $500 of support per adult, with a cap of $1,000 per household, Newsom’s office said. The fund combines $75 million in state donations with $50 million from private philanthropists.

It’s the first state funding effort aimed at helping undocumented immigrants as the coronavirus pandemic paralyzes much of the country and spurs soaring unemployment. And immigrant rights groups hope it won’t be the last.

But the measure is sure to draw criticism from groups that oppose illegal immigration, who’ve argued it’s unfair to give any financial support to immigrants who’ve broken the law.

Some 150,000 undocumented immigrants will benefit

In announcing the move, Newsom stressed that undocumented workers are essential and overrepresented in many sectors keeping the state afloat, including health care, agriculture and food, manufacturing and logistics and construction.

Newsom said that 10% of California’s workforce is undocumented. And though they paid over $2.5 billion in local and state taxes last year, they benefit from neither unemployment insurance nor the $2.2 trillion stimulus signed by President Trump.

Private donors to the $50 million philanthropy effort include the Emerson Collective, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, James Irvine Foundation, California Endowment and Blue Shield Foundation, Newsom said.

Officials estimate 150,000 undocumented immigrants in the state will benefit.

“I’m not here to suggest that $125 million is enough. But I am here to suggest it’s a good start, and I’m very proud it’s starting here in the state of California,” Newsom said.

The state’s funds will be dispersed through regional nonprofits who have experience serving undocumented communities and personal information from undocumented workers will not be required, according to CNN affiliate KTLA. It is not clear when those funds would be dispersed.

Advocates: Payments are ‘a necessary first step’

Immigrant advocacy groups lauded the state’s effort.

“This virus doesn’t discriminate – it doesn’t care about race, class, or wealth. Our response to this crisis shouldn’t either. California is leading at a time when Congress should be doing more for immigrants in #COVID19 relief efforts,” the National Immigration Law Center said on Facebook.

“Today’s announcement is a necessary first step to close the widening gap between immigrants and vital assistance that could mean the difference between life and death for millions of Californians,” the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) said in a statement Wednesday.

At around 7.6 million people, unauthorized workers make up about 4.6% of the US labor force, according to 2017 data from the Pew Research Center.

While some argue that it is not the government’s responsibility to support those undocumented when American citizens are hurting financially, immigration advocates say the disproportionate effect on undocumented workers is a wider problem.

In a public health crisis, immigration advocates say, if someone feels like they can’t miss work or can’t afford medical care, that impacts the entire community.