L.A. Mayor Garcetti’s Response to Unemployment Crisis: Pre-Paid Debit Cards for Illegal Immigrants

The handful of journalists who have spent decades on the immigration beat have a saying: “Never say never.” Translated, the maxim means that no matter how outrageous or illegal federal, state or local lawmakers’ outreach is to unlawfully present aliens, a more shocking development will soon supersede it.

As an example of the inherent wisdom of never say never, turn to Eric Garcetti, the legacy mayor of Los Angeles. With Garcetti’s wholehearted endorsement, Los Angeles city officials are accepting applications for pre-paid debit cards, including from illegal aliens. The cards, funded privately, will have values of $700, $1,100 and $1,500, depending on the applicants’ household income, assuming that annual earnings fall below the federal poverty line and that the household’s head has a 50 percent income reduction directly related to COVID-19. As of this writing, 450,000 people have submitted applications for what Garcetti calls Angeleno cards.

No one argues that being down and out in Los Angeles, and with limited prospects for significant lifestyle improvements, is awful. But neither can anyone disagree that Garcetti’s action, and the actions that precipitated the cards’ issuance, involves multiple federal immigration offenses. Employers are guilty of hiring illegal immigrants, the aliens are guilty of falsifying employment documents that may involve identity theft and of working without legal authorization, and Garcetti is guilty of harboring aliens. Specifically, Title 8, U.S. Code 1324 prohibits proving direct cash assistance to illegal aliens that enable them to remain in the United States. Nevertheless, Garcetti said, “Applicants will not be asked anything about their immigration status. We are all Angelenos.”

For more than 20 years, California’s Republican and Democratic governors Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom have disregarded immigration laws. During that period, the governors, along with mayors like Garcetti, San Francisco’s Willie Brown and Ed Lee, and Oakland’s Libby Schaaf, have willfully turned their backs on U.S. workers.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that Los Angeles County has more than 1 million unauthorized residents; 80 percent fall into the prime working-age demographic, 16 to 54. Furthermore, MPI found that 66 percent of Los Angeles’ civilian, over-16 population is employed – a total that includes unlawfully present immigrants. Contrary to the old, discredited saw that illegal immigrants do jobs that Americans won’t do, Los Angeles’ alien population is nearly exclusively employed in manufacturing, food services, construction, professional services and retail. In an increasingly tight employment market, most Americans would eagerly take jobs in those employment sectors.

A University of Southern California Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research study found that more than half of Los Angeles’ residents are unemployed. Within the next three months, the USC study estimates about 33 percent of those unemployed residents will run out of money, and will be unable to meet their financial obligations. Chaos will likely follow.

As Los Angeles slowly reopens its economy – an event that, given Garcetti’s hardline “we will shut you down” stance, may be weeks away – U.S. citizens and lawfully present immigrants are entitled to have the first opportunity to fill jobs as they become available. Since there is literally zero likelihood that California’s state or municipal officials will prioritize American workers, mandatory E-Verify is the best and perhaps only chance U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents will have to get back on the road to economic stability.

President Trump has consistently punted on E-Verify. During the employment crisis, now is the time for the president to step up and put his office’s full weight behind the companion House and Senate bills, the Accountability Through Electronic Verification Act, which Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) introduced. The legislation would permanently reauthorize E-Verify. Within a year, all employers would be required to use the program, and existing employees would have to be E-Verify-checked. Employers that refuse to adopt E-Verify would be subject to fines up to $2,500, and risk further penalties.

Congress should do everything in its power to protect the jobs and wages of hard-working Americans. The Accountability through Electronic Verification Act would be one part of that elusive goal.