Conservative Group Sues Gov. Newsom Over Coronavirus Relief for Undocumented Workers

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Day laborers and their supporters demonstrate on April 14, 2020, in Los Angeles, calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to provide coronavirus-related emergency financial aid to undocumented workers affected by the crisis. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

A conservative legal group asked the California Supreme Court Thursday to block Gov. Gavin Newsom from using state funds to help undocumented immigrants impacted by the coronavirus crisis.

The nonprofit Center for American Liberty, whose CEO is Republican party official Harmeet Dhillon, filed an emergency petition alleging that the governor’s plan to put $75 million into a state disaster relief fund for undocumented workers hard hit by job losses is illegal.

Newsom announced the fund on April 15, which he said would be supplemented with $50 million in private donations, and would help provide one-time $500 grants to about 150,000 unauthorized workers who are not eligible for unemployment insurance or federal stimulus checks.

“California is the most diverse state in the nation. Our diversity makes us stronger and more resilient,” Newsom said last week in announcing the first-in-the nation fund. “Every Californian, including our undocumented neighbors and friends, should know that California is here to support them during this crisis. We are all in this together.”

The funds will be dispersed “through a community-based model of regional nonprofits with expertise and experience serving undocumented communities,” he said.

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Thursday’s petition asks the court to stop the California Department of Finance from distributing the funds on the grounds that doing so will cause “irreparable injury” to California taxpayers.

“This is taxpayer money that may only be appropriated by the legislative branch,” Dhillon said. “This is not a slush fund for the governor to spend as he sees fit.”

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The lawsuit questions the legality of distributing public funds through nonprofit groups, as the governor's plan would do, and questions the legality of giving what it referred to as “unemployment benefits” to people who aren't legally authorized to work.

In announcing the fund, however, Newsom did not refer to the money as unemployment insurance, and the finance director’s request for the appropriation called it a “a one-time disaster cash benefit to assist undocumented immigrants negatively impacted by COVID-19.”

Jesse Melgar, a spokesman for Newsom, called the action “legally justified and morally necessary.”

“These actions benefit public health and the economic well-being of families and communities hit hardest by this pandemic,” Melgar said. “We look forward to defending what we know to be right in court.”