The American Rescue Plan (ARP) was signed into law two years ago. ARP provided $350 billion in funding for state and local governments to aid in building an equitable economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This new state-allocated money meant to ensure state and local governments can maintain positions like front-line public workers, as well as the distribution of vaccines, scaling testing, reopening schools and maintaining other vital services. In addition, the ARP provided funds for emergency grants to hard-hit small businesses like mom-and-pop shops, family-owned restaurants, etc. so they could rehire and retain workers. APR funding was also used to purchase health and sanitation equipment needed to keep front-line workers safe.
The making of IRLA
At the same time that ARP was being introduced into Congress in early 2021, an immigrant-rights coalition called Immigrants Are LA (IRLA) was steadily forming and beginning to open its doors for services. IRLA is made up of more than 100 non-profit, community-led, health and other academic organizations, including CHIRLA, AltaMed, St. John’s Well Child & Family Center, Immigrant Defenders Law Center, UCLA Labor Center, and the USC Equity Research Institute, among others. They banded together as IRLA to advocate for immigrants in LA and proposed a county plan that would include more immigrant-related priorities to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, who would allocate the $9 billion in ARP funds. IRLA leaders launched a public campaign to better ensure that local immigrant residents in need received their fair share of the county’s portion of federal ARP and COVID-19 relief monies.
IRLA’S mission is to make sure underserved communities in LA reach socioeconomic relief by building thriving local economies, improving access to LA County’s capital and advancing policies that give immigrants an integral and permanent part of the county’s budget process.
LA County Budget should represent the city’s immigrant population
With the same mission to advocate for immigrants, IRLA has focused this year on working alongside the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on the county’s $46.7 billion general budget to ensure that the billion-dollar budget rightfully allocated expenditures that reflect the county’s immigrant population.
In March, IRLA presented 10 budget priorities to county supervisors and through advocacy and collaboration with them, many of the 10 items IRLA pushed for in their budget proposal were adopted by the LA County Board of Supervisors. For CALÓ news coverage about IRLA’S 2023 efforts regarding the LA County budget, click HERE.
Inclusive Action for the City – IRLA’s co-chair organization
IRLA has four organizations that serve as co-chairs. One of these organizations is Inclusive Action for the City, also known as Inclusive Action, an organization that aims to address income inequality among Latinos living in LA and invest in the physical environment and quality of life of residents.
Inclusive Action for the City was founded in 2008 by young professionals who wanted to inject creativity, innovation and boldness into mainstream efforts to alleviate poverty and improve the quality of life of residents in low-income neighborhoods.
Inclusive Action for the City is also leader of the LA Street Vendor Campaign (LASVC), a citywide effort that resulted in the legalization of street vending in 2018 and supporter of a statewide policy that decriminalized street vending throughout California.
Luz Castro serves as the Policy Associate Director of Inclusive Action and as part of her job, she focuses on advancing policy priorities for the organization. Before working with Inclusive Action, she led CHIRLA’s federal policy portfolio and registry campaign in Washington, D.C. to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Castro told CALÓ NEWS she has experienced firsthand the struggle of immigrants living in the United States.
Castro grew up in the city of Bell Gardens with a single undocumented mother, who was a domestic worker and only spoke Spanish. “I saw firsthand how much she worked and how she had to wake up in the morning to catch her bus at 6 a.m. And getting her pay as a domestic worker never ever matched the sacrifices that she had made for me and my sister, and for me,” Castro said. “Seeing how hard my mother worked to barely make half of the minimum wage really inspired me to pursue a career in public service. So when I was in high school and going into college, I knew that I wanted to study political science and Spanish, because I wanted to understand how government services work and how the government works.”
Castro attended Whittier College, where she was able to get involved in the political space by taking part in labor organizing, helping cafeteria workers and unionizing workers, while also doing congressional internships with local members of Congress.
Her very first job was working for Congresswoman Lucille Roybal Allard, who represented East LA, South LA and Southeast Valley. She then decided to go to Washington, D.C., right after the 2020 elections, when President Biden came into office. “I started working with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights. At that time, my mom was still fully undocumented, so to me, it was important to be at the table where decisions were being made for the undocumented population,” she said. She worked at CHIRLA for three years, doing policy work to introduce a bill that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants.
When she realized the Biden-Harris immigration reform bill would be held in the Senate, she ended up moving back to California and began her journey with Inclusive Action.
“We’re supporting the communities that we represent, which are majority Latino and Black immigrants,” Castro said. “And as part of that organization, I’m representing them.” CALÒ NEWS spoke to Castro about IRLA, Inclusive Action, economic equity and the 2023 LA County budget.
Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Luz Castro, Los Angeles, Policy Associate Director of Inclusive Action, She/Her, Latina
WHAT TYPE OF WORK DOES INCLUSIVE ACTION DO IN THE COMMUNITY? WHAT IS THE ORGANIZATION MISSION?
Inclusive Action is a nonprofit organization that focuses on economic justice and making sure that the community has access to the formal economy. And we also serve as a community development financial institution, which is a CDFI. And we do provide loans to different small business owners and micro business owners, and make sure that they’re not that their businesses are not only surviving but that their business is actually thriving. We have a history of working with the community and supporting and making sure that we’re fighting for economic justice for them.
WHAT IS THE LA STREET VENDOR CAMPAIGN? WHAT DID IT RESULT IN?
Inclusive Action has been one of the leaders and founders of the LA Street Vendor Campaign, as well as the California Street Vendor Campaign. We have a history of really working with majority immigrant undocumented populations and we’ve done a lot of work in ensuring that street vendors or the idea or the act of street vending gets decriminalized. Up until some years ago, it was illegal for street vendors to be vending out on the streets. Now, thanks to legislative wins that we’ve had over the past years at the local and state levels, we’ve been able to legalize the act of street vending. To many street vendors, it is important for them to be able to bring food to the table and support their families. We work closely with a lot of street vendors and we have conversations with them about their needs. And I think for us, that has always been a priority, ensuring that street vendors are able to enter a formal economy. Right now we are working with LA County and making sure that street vendors have access to permits that weren’t necessarily accessible to them up until a couple of months and years ago. A lot of the street vendors that we work with are majority immigrants are majority undocumented immigrants who have been doing street vending and need it [to make] a living. That ties into some of the work that we’re also doing at the IRLA coalition and making sure that immigrants have access to different service programs that local and state entities offer the larger community.
HOW DID INCLUSIVE ACTION JOIN THE IRLA COALITION? AND HOW WAS IRLA ESTABLISHED?
We were reached out and asked if we wanted to be a part of IRLA in 2021. It was during the pandemic. Many of us, you know, had to stay indoors for the majority of the time, [so] we saw firsthand how difficult it was for the immigrant population during that time or how they were especially hit hard the most because they didn’t have the same option to be able to stay home, like many of us did. When President Biden introduced the American Rescue Plan (ARP), we knew thatfunding was to be going down to the different localities, so different local governments are expected to get funding to support the communities that they represent during the pandemic. In the case of LA County, LA County received 1.9 billion in funding from ARP, to be able to support with programming and resources for the LA County community. IRLA wanted to make sure that immigrants and the undocumented immigrant population were able to get some of those funding sources that were expected to trickle down from the federal government.
HOW AND WHY DID IRLA START ORGANIZING AROUND THE 2023 LA COUNTY BUDGET? WHAT WAS THE PROCESS LIKE?
This budget advocacy is much larger than simply doing the ARP plan budget advocacy because now we’re talking about the entire LA County budget. This past year, what we did is that we really followed the budget process and engaged fully in it as well, by engaging not only the different offices of the supervisors, but we also [making] sure that we engaged community members in the process. So the way that it works is that usually LA County begins to start the budget process late in the year in November, or December— that is when departments receive guidelines from the CEO, which is like that office that oversees that budget. That’s when the departments start drafting and putting together a proposal of what they need for the next budget cycle. So once that happens, at the start of the year, come January, February, March, April, that’s when things are now rapidly moving. April is when we see the first presentation and presentation and draft of a recommended budget presented to the Board of Supervisors and in April is the first time that the community is able to see what is included, or what are the suggestions for the the budget in that specific fiscal year. In May, there is an opportunity for us as the public, as constituents as community members, for us to engage in the different discussions that the Board of Supervisors holds, because at this time is when the Board of Supervisors has public hearings on the recommended budget. This is the opportunity where the community is able to come in and advocate for specific programs that perhaps they didn’t see reflected in the April budget when it was released. During this time, we really asked our law to make sure that we’re engaging in these conversations and making sure that we have constituents and immigrants showing up to these different public hearings. Come June, is when we see budget deliberations happening within the Board of Supervisors and this is when changes happen to the recommended budget. Bbased on the the community engagement and what the supervisors heard from the community the Board of Supervisors has the opportunity to make adjustments and changes to the budget. In June, we see the release of an adopted budget. And then in July, August, and September, it’s a little bit of a wait time, because around these months is when the county usually receives state and federal funds that trickle down to them that help support their budget. Finally in October, we see a final budget deliberation, and the final budget gets adopted.
IRLA PRESENTED 10 BUDGET PRIORITIES TO THE SUPERVISORS, SOME OF THESE RECOMMENDATIONS WERE ADOPTED, WHAT ISSUES TOOK PRIORITY AND HOW DO WE SEE THEM IN THE BUDGET?
We have three priority issues that the coalition has been focusing on. First, we want to make sure that there are programs that support housing resources. Another bucket of work is making sure that we have legal services available for the immigrant population. And then the third bucket is digital equity and internet access. We’re happy to share and we were very pleased to see that the county board of supervisors really supported many of the tasks that we had made when it came to these three buckets of work. So some notable programs that we have been advocating for, and that receive continued funding for this next fiscal year have been the Statehouse LA, a program, which is a program that provides legal services to community members that may be going through the eviction process. And then we also receive continued funding and support for the Represent LA program, which is a legal services program that supports immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, who may be going through deportation proceedings to have access to an attorney, and then it also supports immigrants who may want to be going through the legalization process. Lastly, when it comes to digital equity, we did see that there was funding for a digital navigator program and also funding for the community to have access to more personal computers and devices and investment in making sure that community members have access to technical assistance.
IRLA PRESENTED 10 BUDGET PRIORITIES TO THE SUPERVISORS, SOME OF THESE RECOMMENDATIONS WERE NOT ADOPTED, SO WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
There were requests that we had made that perhaps didn’t make it through. We’re going to continue doing advocacy for the next fiscal year. And we’re going to continue asking for more investment, or for there to be more investments going into the undocumented immigrant communities because we know that LA County is one of the largest counties with one of the largest immigrant populations and we want to make sure that our immigrant population isn’t only living and surviving, but that they’re actually thriving and have access to many have the resources that are available to the larger LA County community.
HOW DOES IRLA SUPPORT THE IMMIGRANT COMMUNITY, SPECIFICALLY LATINOS?
There are 3.5 million immigrants that live in the county of Los Angeles, and out of those 3.5 million 800,000 are fully undocumented, meaning that they don’t have any status. The work that we do at the local level is so important. I also want to note that, I think we may be one of the only coalitions that is actively doing advocacy at the county level on behalf of immigrants. And I say that it’s very important because of the fact that we have 800,000 community members who are fully undocumented, living in LA County means that many of them may not have access to a lot of the resources that US citizens may be benefiting from. That’s in large part due not to the county, but that’s in large part because in Washington, D.C., in Congress, they have not been able to pass any type of legalization or immigration reform for the community. It’s been 40 years since we’ve had a type of legalization. And the last time that we had that was under President Ronald Reagan in 1986. We’re now in 2023, and our undocumented population hasn’t seen any form of relief or opportunity for them to legalize their status. If you look at the DACA program, for example, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, it does offer some relief, but it’s in constant attack in the courts. It’s expected to go to the Supreme Court next summer. And that decision will come out on whether DACA is unlawful or lawful. As of now, our community doesn’t have a pathway to legalize their status to become legal, permanent residents, and all U.S . citizens, which means that they’re being left out of a lot of programs that are oftentimes restricted for citizens only. IRLA really wants to make sure that the resources that the county is providing are also targeting the immigrant population, and that they’re being intentional about the programs that they are funding and the resources that they are supporting. There are still evictions happening, rents are going higher, and people are working jobs under the table that perhaps don’t pay them minimum wage. So we have to make sure that we are continuing to work with the LA County, County Board of Supervisors and ensuring that we maintain a lot of these programs that we fought for and that we really take into consideration the immediate needs of the immigrant community, whether it’s housing, health, legal representation, or any other rights For the future, we will you want to continue working, we’re going to continue working alongside the immigrant population and making sure that we’re not only right, speaking on their behalf, but they’re the ones actually engaging in this budget and policy process that the county has in place.
To view the full LA County’s budget visit: https://ceo.lacounty.gov/budget/.To learn more about IRLA, you can visit https://www.immigrantsarela.com/. To learn more about Inclusive Action, visit https://www.inclusiveaction.org.