Immigration and labor advocacy groups on Monday exhorted the state to create a disaster fund for undocumented workers and their families who have been shut out from pandemic relief programs.
“We can’t flatten the curve in New Jersey unless everyone here has access to aid,” said Brian Lozano, of the Morristown-based Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center, via a teleconference.
A coalition of organizations announced a week-long campaign, #Recovery4All, to underscore the dire situation of laid off undocumented workers, who are ineligible for unemployment insurance, federal stimulus checks and other government relief during the coronavirus crisis.
“Last month we only had half of our rent. Luckily our landlord is good. But this month is going to be difficult,” said Fernando Saenz, from Make the Road New Jersey.
He and his wife have lost their warehouse jobs. Their 22-year-old daughter lost her job at a mall. Their son is taking his college courses at home. Saenz said he’s paid taxes for 20 years, and his wife, for 18.
“And we have no right to anything. To this moment, we have received no help,” he said.
‘WHAT ABOUT US, GOV. MURPHY?’
Undocumented workers across New Jersey pay $1.1 billion in federal taxes and $600 million in state taxes, Lozano said. The state is home to half a million undocumented immigrants, who have 128,000 children who are U.S. citizens, he said.
Some 125,000 of these workers have lost their jobs during the pandemic, and 225,000 won’t receive any stimulus money because of their immigration status, or the status of a family member, Lozano said.
Through last week, the IRS had issued nearly $158 billion in stimulus payments to 88 million Americans. Adults who qualify get up to $1,200, with an additional $500 per child under age 17. The payments are part of a $2.2 trillion pandemic relief package enacted last month by Congress.
Participants in #Recovery4All are demanding $600 per week for each displaced worker, and stimulus checks to undocumented people with ITINs (Individual Tax Identification Numbers) who have been paying taxes.
“What about us, Gov. Murphy?” asked Jairo Palomo, a Honduran immigrant representing ULA, a nonprofit advocacy organization.
Palomo said he lost an aunt to COVID-19, and on April 4 he lost his job. He said he is struggling to pay rent, buy food and support his family back in Honduras.
“I’ve had to deal with all of these emotions at the same time. There is a difference going through this pandemic for someone who is wealthy and has means, and being part of the working class, and undocumented immigrants,” said Palomo, asserting undocumented workers have contributed to New Jersey’s prosperity.
Rent payments should be cancelled during the pandemic, he said, and essential workers should be given personal protective equipment. He wants detention centers to release immigrants and shut down. Palomo blamed a “xenophobic, anti-immigrant president” for excluding undocumented workers from federal relief.
At a press briefing last week, Gov. Phil Murphy said he was open to the idea of $600 payments to undocumented residents, but he made no commitments.
Morristown Green reached out to Murphy and state Sen. Anthony M. Bucco (R-25th Dist.) on Monday. This story will be updated to include any responses from them.
California has made funding available to help undocumented workers there. Lozano said Wind of the Spirit is monitoring that situation, for ideas about how to distribute relief aid if New Jersey approves it. Some immigrants may be wary of seeking government help for fear of deportation, he acknowledged.
WINDOW SIGNS, POTS AND PANS
A series of #Recovery4All online events are planned this week, culminating Friday, May Day, with a “day of action” to include signs in windows, and banging of pots and pans from balconies and courtyards, to demonstrate support.
The #Recovery4All groups include the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Friends Service Committee, the Central Jersey Democratic Socialists of America, the Hudson County Central Labor Council and El Pueblo Unido of Atlantic City IFPTE Local 194.
Also participating: The Latina organization LUPE, New Labor, the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, the Ironbound Community Corp., Faith in New Jersey, Make the Road New Jersey, SEIU 32Bj, and the South Jersey Democratic Socialists of America.
Their demands include automatic extensions of the federal DACA and TPS programs, with health care. Both programs issue work permits to undocumented immigrants.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) enables children illegally brought into the U.S. to remain, if they meet certain conditions. A U.S. Supreme Court decision on DACA’s fate is imminent.
Temporary Protected Status (TPS) allows persons from countries ravaged by wars or natural disasters to stay in the U.S. for limited periods. TPS status for Hondurans and Salvadorans was set to expire, but they received a reprieve from the courts.
A woman named Gladys, who is a member of Faith in New Jersey, said she is concerned about the future of her daughter, a “Dreamer” (DACA child) who recently graduated from college and landed a good job.
Gladys said her husband is a U.S. citizen. But because she is an undocumented worker who has been paying taxes since 1998 using an ITIN number, her family cannot receive federal stimulus help.
“The logic behind it, as I see it, is: Don’t become friends or family with undocumented immigrants, or this will happen to you,” she said.
After Roberto Mejia and his wife lost their jobs in February, they and their two children, who are U.S. citizens, all came down with COVID-19. Then he learned they were ineligible for stimulus money.
“I take this as punishment because we are Latinos and immigrants,” said Mejia, a machine operator and truck driver. “But we contribute to this country. For 29 years I’ve been paying my taxes,” he said.
Everyone, he added, has access to health care.
“We do not.”
Mejia’s daughter Valerie, 13, said she is proud of her Hispanic heritage, and upset with the United States.
“I feel very discriminated against by my country,” she said.