Activists demand disaster relief for undocumented workers in New Jersey

A display left outside of the Trenton State House shows workers holding up a paper plate with the phrase “100 dias sin alivio” written on it, or “100 days without relief.”

A crowd gathered in front of the Trenton State House Annex to demand disaster relief for undocumented workers last week on the hundredth day of the state of emergency in New Jersey due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Protesters marched through downtown Trenton carrying banners that read “Ya es hora” and “100 days without economic relief for undocumented and essential workers.”

Several immigrant rights nonprofits came together to organize the day of action, including the ACLU-NJ, Casa Freehold and Unidad Latina en Acción. The event was organized in response to state emergency support packages that ignored undocumented workers and left them without access to income, unemployment insurance or stimulus checks.

A husband and wife who are both undocumented and were financially stable and employed at the beginning of the pandemic described how they then became unemployed when the state of emergency was declared. The wife said the first months were a fearful and difficult time. The husband would leave the house only to collect food from their local food bank.

Over the course of the past few months, their family has accrued debts and struggled to purchase necessary medicines and food. So the wife reached out to Unidad Latina en Acción for help and they bought medicine for the family.

The family does not qualify for government aid, and “the federal and state governments have discriminated against us for being undocumented,” the wife said.

“My situation is just one of many undocumented immigrant family realities that are now petitioning and asking the state of New Jersey for economic relief,” she said.

The rally in Trenton was preceded by a live broadcast on Wednesday morning featuring a new report on undocumented immigrants’ contributions to the New Jersey unemployment system.

Undocumented immigrants and their U.S. citizen children pay about $587 million in state and local taxes annually in New Jersey, and one billion in federal taxes, yet they did not receive any stimulus payment under the CARES Act, according to the report. New Jersey’s half a million undocumented residents are also barred from receiving unemployment insurance, welfare, and most government aid.

A bill to benefit undocumented workers has been written, but not introduced in the New Jersey Legislature. Advocates are pushing for the bill to be passed, said Jessica Culley, executive director of CATA Farmworkers.

The organization has been fundraising from private donors for several months now, and has raised more than $28,000 for 100 families, Cully said the amount is a drop in the bucket compared to what the need is in the community. “The state has a responsibility to be assisting these families always, but especially now in this really critical time of need,” Cully said.