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Gov. Newsom sued over coronavirus aid plan for California immigrants who lack legal status

Los Angeles Times logo Los Angeles Times 4/23/2020 By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times
Gavin Newsom wearing a suit and tie: California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference at the California justice department on September 18, 2019 in Sacramento, California. © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America/TNS California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference at the California justice department on September 18, 2019 in Sacramento, California.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A conservative group has sued California Gov. Gavin Newsom to block his allocation of $75 million to provide financial help during the COVID-19 pandemic to immigrants in the country illegally who don’t qualify for unemployment insurance.

The nonprofit Center for American Liberty filed an emergency petition with the California Supreme Court requesting a stay on the governor’s action, arguing state and federal law bar unemployment benefits to those without legal status and that providing the money to nonprofit groups represents an improper gift of taxpayer funds.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Whittier City Councilwoman Jessica Martinez and Ricardo Benitez, an immigrant from El Salvador who is now a U.S. citizen. Both plaintiffs are Republican candidates for the state Assembly. Benitez is running to represent the 39th Assembly District in the San Fernando Valley and Martinez is vying to represent the 57th Assembly District in the southern San Gabriel Valley.

“This is taxpayer money that may only be appropriated by the legislative branch. This is not a slush fund for the governor to spend as he sees fit,” Harmeet K. Dhillon, a San Francisco attorney and chief executive officer for the Center for American Liberty, said in a written statement. “At a time when law-abiding Californians are crushed by unemployment, housing issues, business closures and massive limitations on our normal lives, Governor Newsom is doing an end-run around the legal guardrails in place.”

Newsom announced on April 16 that the state was providing the $75 million, to be supplemented with $50 million from nonprofit groups, to provide $500 to each immigrant without legal status and up to $1,000 per household.

“We feel a deep sense of gratitude for people that are in fear of deportation but are still addressing the essential needs of tens of millions of Californians” in food gathering and other tasks, Newsom said at the time.

Under the program, applications for assistance would be accepted starting next month and the money will be distributed by regional nonprofit groups so that the personal information of those receiving the money would not be kept by the government.

The governor did not identify all of the nonprofits, but said they include those founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, and by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan Zuckerberg.

“There is no accountability over the distribution of these funds to individuals legally not entitled to cash benefits,” Dhillon said.

Newsom’s representatives did not immediately respond to questions about the legal action, which was filed Wednesday.

In addition to that suit, Dhillon’s group sued the state last week to challenge restrictions on religious services under the governor’s stay-at-home order.

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