March 19, 2021 at 12:23 am #100002322zpodiumKeymaster
As the pandemic enters its second year, the absence of economic relief for New Jersey’s nearly 500,000 undocumented residents has created a vexing situation among advocates.
Proponents of relief say that as taxpaying undocumented workers remain excluded from federal relief efforts and pandemic-related unemployment benefits, the state should step in. They note other states, including California, Maryland and Washington have approved such monies for undocumented residents, though New Jersey has not. They also point to undocumented workers being more likely to be “essential workers.”
Opponents say the state cannot afford such benefits, especially for undocumented residents.
A coalition of groups — including Make the Road New Jersey, the Latino Action Network, LUPE PAC, NJ Alliance for Immigrant Justice and the union SEIU 32BJ — has lobbied lawmakers in Trenton over the past year for aid for undocumented residents.
They’ve held more than 30 protests across the state, an overnight encampment at the Statehouse and 10 town hall meetings with lawmakers. They’ve also sent letters to Murphy and top lawmakers with more than 60 signatories and put up a billboard along the New Jersey Turnpike in Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin’s district.
On Tuesday, they announced a grassroots voting effort to mobilize and back candidates who support pandemic relief assistance for undocumented residents.
“For an entire year, Latinx immigrants and our families have been left behind from nearly every form of aid,” Deyanira Aldana, lead organizer at Make the Road New Jersey, an immigrant advocacy group whose 501(c)(4) endorsed Murphy’s first run for office, said in a statement. “Our young men are dying at a rate seven times as high as white people. But our state has forgotten us. Latinx voters will not forget.”
A bill introduced last May that would allocate $35 million to provide a one-time payment to taxpaying undocumented residents, has yet to receive a committee hearing. And while Murphy’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 increases legal representation funds for immigration status issues from $6.2 million to $8.2 million and expands health care to undocumented children, the absence of direct immigrant aid goes against the governor’s progressive values, Campos-Medina said.
“If we do not take care of everybody or serve the most vulnerable — the undocumented who are keeping New Jersey citizens safe — then you can’t call yourself a progressive,” she said in an interview. “When you’re a progressive, you take care of the most vulnerable.”
Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), who sponsored S2480, said she would try to get the extra money into the budget.
“I want to bring this topic back up to see if there are creative ways that we can implement what the intent of the bill was,” she said in an interview.
There have been other frustrations.
Murphy drew the ire of immigrant groups for not taking a firm stance against controversial ICE contracts with Hudson and Bergen counties, which resulted in hunger strikes and confrontations with law enforcement at the two county jails late last year. The jails were criticized for allegedly poor living conditions, which were susceptible to the spread of Covid.
While the contracts are out of the state’s purview, immigrant groups said they were disappointed with Murphy’s noncommittal response.
“I’ve not seen the governor flex his political position as lead Democrat in the state to tell these local Democratically controlled counties that they need to act like Democrats,” said Amy Torres, executive director of New Jersey Alliance For Immigrant Justice. “It’s a real shame for New Jersey to call itself a blue state, and operate its prisons in jails like one of the reddest states.”
Immigrant groups say Murphy should stay attuned to their communities, or what was once an enthusiastic constituency could become a political vulnerability.
“[Murphy had] upwards of 80 percent of the Latino vote in 2017,” said Sara Cullinane of Make the Road New Jersey. “A lot of that was due to his really powerful stance on protecting immigrant communities. If that same sort of stance isn’t here this time around, I’m not sure he’ll see the same type of support.”
Though advocates acknowledge Murphy has accomplished much of what’s been on their agenda, excluding aid for undocumented residents taints his reputation as a progressive, they say, and leaves one resume gap that is important for him to fill.
“[Murphy has] made sweeping changes that make our state much more fair and welcoming for immigrants,” Cullinane said. “But by leaving a half million immigrants behind from aid, he signals that their survival in the pandemic isn’t as important. It casts a shadow on the rest of his work.”
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