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A Tale of Two Governors: Gov. Gavin Newsom Takes Charge, Protects Californians, Includes Undocumented Immigrants as “Us” Gov. Kristi Noem: Failed Leadership, Now a Hot Spot, Does Nothing to Protect Immigrant Workers at Smithfield

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The tale of two governors captures where we are in America as we confront the coronavirus crisis. 

From day one, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) has been assertive, bold, and successful in saving tens of thousands of lives. Yesterday, he kept at it, announcing a $125 million public-private fund to support undocumented immigrants in the state. In recognition of the humanity of immigrant families and the contributions immigrants make as essential workers, Newsom said, “California is the most diverse state in the nation. Our diversity makes us stronger and more resilient. 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.”

South Dakota’s Kristi Noem (R-SD)? Not so much. Arguing that, “South Dakota is not New York City,” Noem refuses to issue a statewide stay-at-home order and she is very proud that she regularly speaks to Jared Kushner on the phone. However, she has done little to help her state’s essential workers at the Smithfield Foods plant, many of whom are refugees and immigrants. Now, according to the Argus Leader, Smithfield Foods is now the largest coronavirus hot spot in the US. The Washington Post adds, “The shutdown of the Sioux Falls plant, coupled with other closures, ‘is pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,’ Kenneth Sullivan, Smithfield president and chief executive, said in a statement. ‘It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running.’”

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

At a moment of crisis, when public health experts tell us it’s imperative that we come together and work together, Trump and the GOP seem intent on dividing America. Trump, seemingly more interested in his political future than our survival, splits us into red states and blue states; rural areas and urban areas; friend and foe. His do-little, point-fingers, blame-immigrants, let-people-perish approach clearly inspires his acolytes, such as Kristi Noem, Governor of South Dakota. No thanks. If forced to choose, we stand with the successful and inclusive Gavin Newsom, Governor of California.

Leading observers continue to highlight the essential role – and fragile state – of immigrant workers:

  • While the Smithfield pork factory in South Dakota became the biggest coronavirus hot spot, it is also home to thousands of immigrants working with little wages and little benefits. The New York Times notes, “They worked side by side in front of speeding conveyor belts…Many iced their wrists at night and relied on a daily dose of ibuprofen to keep up with the work of slaughtering, processing and packaging pork products for global consumption.”
  • As the Associated Press highlights that “For meat plant workers, virus makes a hard job perilous,” family members speak on the mistreatment of immigrant workers at Smithfield. Argus Leader details those who have lost family, “I lost him because of that horrible place…Those horrible people and their supervisors, they’re sitting in their homes, and they’re happy with their families.”
  • In a New York Times op-ed, immigrant farmworker Alma Patty Tzalain outlines how she risks her life every day, noting “Immigrant workers are the backbone of our state’s farming industry. Many are undocumented or work with temporary guest worker visas. We have always lived and worked isolated from the rest of society, invisible to most…We put food on everyone’s table, but we struggle to feed ourselves and our families.”
  • And while immigrants are grappling with protecting themselves, paying essential living costs, they also risk losing their legal status. In a Roll Call article titled, H-1B workers lose jobs, legal status amid pandemic,” Tanvi Misra notes, “H-1B may be the only viable path to citizenship…Even if [employers] are interested…they may not be willing or able to sponsor his visa. ‘It’s just extraordinary, the level of fear and uncertainty during this pandemic emergency, and the crazy thing about this is that it’s totally avoidable,’ Doug Rand said.”