Several local immigrant advocate groups have banded together to launch 805 Undocufund to assist undocumented immigrants affected by the Thomas Fire or Montecito mudslides with assistance in rebuilding their livelihoods, where federally funded assistance programs are unavailable due to their immigration status.
The Undocufund, modeled after a similar fund set up in the wake of the Sonoma fires in early 2017, is a joint effort by the coalition of Future Leaders of America, Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) and Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP).
On Sunday, Feb. 18, 82 families from Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties were approved for assistance during a visit to the Bell Arts Factory in west Ventura, where they filled out applications and discussed options for recovery. Over that weekend, $143,600 in financial aid was approved for the families, with the average family receiving $1,750. Aid varied from $500 to $3,000 based on the family’s damage from the disaster and current financial needs.
Some families lost income due to work stoppage, others are dealing with medical issues, and some are coping with the loss of their entire livelihood.
One particular family of five, two adults and three children, lost their home in Wheeler Canyon along with everything they owned. School uniforms, passports, furniture, all gone. After the father’s employer refused to give him time off to sort through the damage, he left to care for his family. In another case, a farmworker who lost 20 days of work due to unsafe air quality found that just as he was able to return to work, the Montecito mudslide prevented him from doing so. Even after returning, his health problems from smoke inhalation have been slow to improve. A head of a household of five, out of work and unpaid for four weeks due to the fire and mudslide, struggles to compensate for the lost income. These are just a few stories from families who visited the Bell Arts clinic.
These stories are not unique for the 82 families who applied and will receive assistance. Lucas Zucker, policy and communications director for CAUSE, says that there are still hundreds of families and individuals who are in need of assistance.
“We had over 500 people who have contacted us either online or by phone seeking assistance, and hundreds are on a waiting list,” said Zucker, adding that most families come from Montecito or Oxnard. “We were able to process about 100 people this weekend at our clinics.”
The Thomas Fire destroyed several apartment complexes and low-income housing for undocumented farmworkers, or caused smoke damage. Farmworkers who worked in fields at the height of the fire may have experienced damage due to smoke inhalation, and others may have been cut off from a source of income by the closure of the 101 Freeway. Approximately 60,000 residents in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties work in the industries most impacted by the fire and mudslides.
“The population of Montecito alone is 10,000; that’s several thousand homes. The vast majority were pretty wealthy folks that tend to employee gardeners, housekeepers, child-care workers, etc.,” said Zucker, adding that there are tens of thousands of farmworkers throughout the region who were also affected. “It’s a monumental amount of people impacted.”
These workers are often lost in the wake of disasters due to their immigration status, which prevents them from receiving federally allotted recovery assistance; and most immigrant workers lack homeowners insurance. Some immigrant families, however, have been able to receive assistance if they have children who are U.S. citizens.
Eder Gaona-Macedo, executive director of Future Leaders of America, says that the Undocufund “seeks to provide a safety net” for the undocumented community.
“Undocumented workers have long been the backbone of our local economy by forming a large part of the service sector in Santa Barbara and Ventura County,” said Macedo. “It’s time for our community to pull resources and provide solidarity to our most disenfranchised community members.”
The fund has raised over $370,000, starting with an initial contribution of $100,000 from Santa Barbara-based international aid organization Direct Relief International, and with support from the Annenberg Foundation, California Wellness Foundation, Linked Foundation, Santa Barbara Foundation, Zegar Family Foundation and more. For more information or to make a tax-deductible contribution, visit www.805undocufund.org.