State Watch

Newsom launches free legal services pilot program for undocumented farmworkers

FILE – California Gov. Gavin Newsom sits in the state Assembly at the state Capitol, June 30, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. In an interview with The Associated Press, Newsom said the prospect of multi-billion dollar budget deficits over the next few years does not change his agenda for his second term in office. Newsom said he will focus on implementing the programs he launched in his first term, including free kindergarten for all 4-year-olds and free health care for low-income residents regardless of their immigration status. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli,File)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom sits in the state Assembly at the state Capitol, June 30, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) Wednesday unveiled a $4.5 million pilot program that will provide free immigration assistance to undocumented farmworkers involved in state labor investigations. 

The program, which will be administered jointly by the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency and the Department of Social Services, will include case review services, legal advice and representation by an attorney, according to the governor’s office.

“Farmworkers are the backbone of our economy and we won’t stand by as bad actors use the threat of deportation as a form of exploitation,” Newsom said in a statement.

“In the absence of Congress modernizing our broken, outdated immigration system, California continues our efforts to support immigrant families,” the governor added.

Legal services will be available to farmworkers whose cases are under review in the Department of Industrial Relations’s Labor Commissioner’s Office, the Division of Occupational Safety and Health or the Agricultural Relations Board, per the terms of the program.

The pilot will focus on supporting the enforcement of labor rights, particularly during worksite-wide investigations, and will not be limited based on an individual’s immigration status, the terms stressed.  

About half of California’s farmworkers are undocumented. Fears of retaliation from employers — such as threats of deportation — are common reasons why many individuals do not submit labor claims, the governor’s office noted.

“Prosecutorial discretion ensures that farmworkers will be empowered to enforce their labor rights and stand up against the abuse and exploitation they often face,” Diana Tellefson Torres, CEO of the United Farm Workers Foundation, said in a statement.

“It is of utmost importance that undocumented workers have access to free and low-cost legal services, so that any farmworker who has experienced workplace violations can come forward knowing they are protected from deportation,” Tellefson Torres added.

Tags Gavin Newsom

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