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Excluded New Jerseyans Fund to provide pandemic-related financial aid to undocumented individuals (read in English and Spanish) 

Human Services Acting Commissioner Sarah Adelman announced that applications for the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund (ENJF) cash assistance program are now open to eligible individuals who want to apply for the financial benefit.

The $40 million ENJF program will provide a one-time, direct cash benefit to eligible households that suffered an economic hardship due to COVID-19 and were excluded from for federal stimulus checks and COVID-19 related unemployment assistance.           

This includes undocumented individuals, residents returning from the justice system, and any other individuals otherwise excluded from pandemic-related financial help.

Households with annual incomes of up to $55,000 with a documented hardship or lost income due to COVID-19 can apply for this assistance. Eligible applicants will receive a benefit of up to $1,000 per eligible individual and a max of $2,000 per household.

Eligible individuals can go to ExcludedNJFund.nj.gov .

Sarah Adelman, Acting Commissioner (Photo source)

Applications will be processed in the order they are received and until funds are exhausted.

The ENJF program is run by the Department’s Office of New Americans (ONA).

“Eligible individuals can now apply for the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund and start the process to get this critical assistance,” Acting Commissioner Adelman said. “If you did not receive federal stimulus checks and pandemic unemployment assistance, you may be eligible. If you were impacted by COVID and struggled to pay for basic needs including housing, you may be eligible. Visit our website, find out if you are eligible and apply today.”

“We are glad we can extend this assistance to individuals who need it,” Deputy Commissioner Elisa Neira said. “Eligibility requirements are on the ExcludedNJFund.nj.gov website. If you know you qualify, the sooner you apply the better. We continue to encourage potential applicants to check if they are eligible and apply.” 

New Jersey is the seventh state to take this type of initiative, following California, Colorado, Washington, New York, New Mexico, and Oregon. It is expected that anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 people will participate in this program. 

The state of New Jersey is committed to helping all families rebuild post-pandemic, included undocumented individuals and others who did not previously receive pandemic benefits. 

“The Excluded New Jerseyans Fund builds on Governor Murphy’s commitment to create an economy that works for all New Jerseyans. COVID-19 impacted many New Jersey families but not all were able to receive federal COVID assistance and relief. This fund can help make up for that,” said Deputy Commissioner Neira. “We know that many families impacted by COVID-19 continue to need support. We encourage residents who think they may qualify for this one-time cash assistance program to check their eligibility and apply at ExcludedNJFund.NJ.gov

How to Apply

Applicants will have to submit supporting documents demonstrating:

  • Exclusion from federal COVID-19 stimulus checks and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance;
  • Annual household income;
  • Identification and residency; and
  • Financial hardship due to COVID-19 caused by lost income due to reduced hours/lay off, inability to work due to isolation/quarantine, or due to their child’s remote school learning schedule, illness and/or death due to COVID-19, or inability to pay bills due to loss of income.

Applicants will be able to submit their documents online through a document upload service where they can upload PDFs, screenshots, or images of the supporting documents. Applicants are encouraged to upload all or as many of the required documents as this will help their application move through the approval process faster.

While supporting documents such as proof of identity and eligibility will be requested as part of the application process, applicants will not be asked to submit data related to their place of birth, citizenship or immigration status.

Applications for the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund (ENJF) are now open. (Image via Instagram)

For a list of documents that may be used to prove eligibility, visit here.

Individuals will have to confirm their eligibility before they are able to start the application process. Eligibility requirements for the program may be found here.

Free application assistance is available. For a list of community organizations who can help with filling out the application and answer questions, visit here.

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis. Eligible applicants can expect to receive their benefit within 2-3 weeks after being notified that they are eligible.

“This assistance will be available until funds run out so we urge individuals who meet the eligibility requirements for these benefits and who can provide the required documentation to apply soon starting today,” said ONA Director Johanna Calle.

You might be interested: Affordable, quality child care is top priority for NJ working families, says Commissioner Sarah Adelman 

En Español 

La comisionada interina de Servicios Humanos, Sarah Adelman, anunció que las solicitudes para el Fondo para Residentes de New Jersey Excluidos (ENJF, por sus siglas en inglés) ya están abiertas para las personas elegibles que quieran solicitar el beneficio financiero. 

El programa ENJF, dotado con $40 millones de dólares, proporcionará un beneficio directo en efectivo, de una sola vez, a los hogares que reúnan los requisitos necesarios y que hayan sufrido dificultades económicas debido a COVID-19, que hayan sido excluidos de los cheques de estímulo federal y de la ayuda al desempleo relacionada con COVID-19.          

Esto incluye a las personas indocumentadas, a los residentes que regresan del sistema judicial y a cualquier otra persona excluida de la ayuda financiera relacionada con la pandemia.

Los hogares con ingresos anuales de hasta $55.000 con una dificultad documentada o pérdida de ingresos debido a COVID-19 pueden solicitar esta ayuda. Los solicitantes elegibles recibirán un beneficio de hasta $1.000 por individuo elegible y un máximo de $2.000 por hogar. 

Los individuos elegibles pueden ir a la página ExcludedNJFund.nj.gov.

Las solicitudes se procesarán por orden de llegada y hasta que los fondos se agoten.

El programa ENJF es administrado por la Oficina de Nuevos Americanos (ONA, por sus siglas en inglés) del Departamento.

Elisa Neira, Deputy Commissioner (Photo source)

“Las personas elegibles ya pueden solicitar el Fondo para Residentes de New Jersey Excluidos (ENJF, por sus siglas en inglés) y comenzar el proceso para obtener esta asistencia crítica”, dijo la comisionada interina Adelman. “Si usted no recibió los cheques de estímulo federal y la asistencia de desempleo por pandemia, usted puede ser elegible. Si se vio afectado por COVID y tuvo dificultades para pagar las necesidades básicas, incluida la vivienda, usted puede ser elegible. Visite nuestra página web, averigüe si es elegible y solicite hoy mismo”.

“Estamos contentos de poder extender esta asistencia a las personas que lo necesiten”, dijo la Vicecomisionada Elisa Neira. “Los requisitos de elegibilidad están en la página web ExcludedNJFund.nj.gov. Si usted sabe que califica, cuanto antes lo solicite, mejor. Seguimos animando a los posibles solicitantes a que comprueben si son elegibles y presenten su solicitud.”

Nueva Jersey es el séptimo estado en tomar este tipo de iniciativas, después de California, Colorado, Washington, Nueva York, Nuevo México y Oregón. Se espera que entre 20.000 y 40.000 personas participen en este programa.

El estado de Nueva Jersey se compromete a ayudar a todas las familias a reconstruir después de la pandemia, incluidas las personas indocumentadas y otras que no habían recibido previamente los beneficios de la pandemia.

“El Fondo para Residentes de New Jersey Excluidos se basa en el compromiso del gobernador Murphy de crear una economía que funcione para todos los habitantes de Nueva Jersey. El COVID-19 afectó a muchas familias de Nueva Jersey, pero no todas pudieron recibir asistencia y alivio de COVID federal. Este fondo puede ayudar a compensar eso ”, dijo el Comisionado Adjunto Neira. “Sabemos que muchas familias afectadas por COVID-19 continúan necesitando apoyo. Alentamos a los residentes que piensan que pueden calificar para este programa de asistencia en efectivo por única vez a que verifiquen su elegibilidad y presenten una solicitud en ExcludedNJFund.NJ.gov ”.

Cómo Aplicar

Los solicitantes tendrán que presentar documentos justificativos que demuestren:

  •         Exclusión de los cheques federales de estímulo COVID-19 y de la asistencia de desempleo por pandemia;
  •         Ingresos anuales del hogar; 
  •         Identificación y que vive en NJ; y
  •         Dificultades financieras debidas a COVID-19 causadas por la pérdida de ingresos debido a la reducción de horas/descanso, la incapacidad para trabajar debido al aislamiento/cuarentena, o debido al horario de aprendizaje escolar a distancia de sus hijos, la enfermedad y/o la muerte debida a COVID-19, o la incapacidad para pagar las facturas debido a la pérdida de ingresos.

Los solicitantes podrán presentar sus documentos en línea a través de un servicio de carga de documentos en el que podrán cargar archivos PDF, capturas de pantalla o imágenes de los documentos justificativos. Se anima a los solicitantes a que suban todos los documentos requeridos, o los más que puedan, ya que esto ayudará a que su solicitud avance más rápido en el proceso de aprobación.

Aunque se pedirán documentos justificativos, como la prueba de identidad y la elegibilidad, como parte del proceso de solicitud, no se pedirá a los solicitantes que presenten datos relacionados con su lugar de nacimiento, ciudadanía o estatus migratorio. 

Las solicitudes para el Fondo para Residentes de New Jersey Excluidos ya están abiertas. (Imagen vía Instagram)

Para ver una lista de documentos que se pueden utilizar para demostrar la elegibilidad, visite aquí.

Las personas tendrán que confirmar su elegibilidad antes de poder iniciar el proceso de solicitud. Los requisitos de elegibilidad para el programa se pueden encontrar aquí.

Hay asistencia gratuita para la solicitud. Para ver una lista de organizaciones comunitarias que pueden ayudar a completar la solicitud y responder preguntas, visite aquí.

Las solicitudes se revisarán por orden de llegada. El tiempo de espera para recibir los beneficios es de 2 a 3 semanas después de que los solicitantes hayan sido notificados que son elegibles.

“Esta ayuda estará disponible hasta que los fondos se agoten, por lo que recomendamos a las personas que reúnan los requisitos para recibir estos beneficios y que puedan aportar la documentación requerida a que presenten su solicitud comenzando hoy”, dijo la directora de la ONA, Johanna Calle.

Health care bill expands Medi-Cal to undocumented elder immigrants age 50+

Health care trailer bill expands full-scope Medi-Cal to approximately 235,000 undocumented immigrants age 50 and older. 

At a health clinic in Fresno County on Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation making California the first state in the nation to expand full-scope Medicaid eligibility to low-income adults 50 years of age or older, regardless of immigration status – a major milestone in the state’s progress toward universal health coverage.

With the rise of the COVID-19 Delta variant and the prevalence of health disparities among low-income and minority communities, access to health care coverage for low-income, undocumented immigrants is crucial at this time. 

The new bill, AB 133, will make bold changes toward a more equitable and prevention-focused approach to health care through expanded behavioral health initiatives supporting California youth and people with severe behavioral health challenges, including those experiencing homelessness; extending Medi-Cal eligibility for postpartum individuals; supporting continued telehealth flexibilities; and advancing the state’s innovative CalAIM initiative.

Medi-Cal, Governor Newsom,

At Fresno health clinic, Governor Newsom signs health care trailer bill expanding Medi-Cal to undocumented immigrants age 50 and over. (Photo source: gov.ca.gov)

“We’re investing California’s historic surplus to accomplish transformative changes we’ve long dreamed of – including this historic Medi-Cal expansion to ensure thousands of older undocumented Californians, many of whom have been serving on the front lines of the pandemic, can access critical health care services,” said Governor Newsom. “I thank the Legislature for its steadfast partnership to bring California closer to universal health care coverage and advance comprehensive initiatives to ensure California’s communities come back from the pandemic stronger and healthier than before.”

Medi-Cal becomes the most inclusive health coverage for vulnerable persons in the country

Under AB 133, approximately 235,000 Californians aged 50 years and older are newly eligible for Medi-Cal, including preventive services, long-term care, and In-Home Supportive Services. 

In 2016, California extended Medi-Cal to undocumented children, and in 2019, California became the first state to extend Medi-Cal coverage to all eligible undocumented young adults up to the age of 26. With this newest expansion, the state has the most inclusive health coverage for vulnerable persons in the country covering all persons regardless of immigration status, except those aged 26-49.

AB 133 will also extend the postpartum care period. (Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash)

Additionally, AB 133 also extends the Medi-Cal postpartum care period from 60 days to 12 months without requiring a mental health diagnosis, including for eligible undocumented Californians.

Further benefits and expansions under the new bill 

Governor Newsom signed the legislation on Tuesday at a Clinica Sierra Vista location in Fresno. During his visit, the Governor highlighted the state’s multi-pronged strategy to reach communities with low vaccination rates and the first-in-the-nation measures announced yesterday to require all state workers and workers in health care and high-risk congregate settings to either show proof of full vaccination or be tested at least once per week. Local governments and businesses are encouraged to adopt similar measures amid the growing threat of the Delta variant.

You might be interested: How to stay protected from quick-spreading COVID-19 Delta variant 

Changing the life trajectory of children and youth in California, the health care trailer bill creates a prevention-focused behavioral health system in which all Californians age 25 and younger are supported and routinely screened for emerging and existing behavioral health needs – enabling them to grow up healthier, both physically and mentally. The initiative includes the creation of a statewide portal to connect young people with telehealth visits.

AB 133 implements an important component of the California Comeback Plan’s $12 billion homelessness package, creating the Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program at the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to expand treatment and housing options for all Californians, including people experiencing homelessness who struggle with the most acute behavioral health needs. AB 133 implements the Plan’s $2.2 billion investment for DHCS to provide competitive grants to local governments to construct, acquire and rehabilitate real estate assets or to invest in mobile crisis infrastructure to expand the community continuum of behavioral health treatment resources. The Plan’s total investments in this space constitute the biggest expansion in decades for clinically enhanced behavioral health housing.

border, fence,

Biden says influx of migrants at the border is nothing new

In his first press conference since taking office, President Biden claimed “nothing has changed” compared to earlier influxes of migrants and unaccompanied children at the border. 

Immigration surge “happens every year”

For the past decade the immigration issue has been a topic of focus. As the humanitarian emergency at the border continues, many are calling into question what the Biden Administration will do to address the issue which has persisted for too long. Others are criticizing President Biden for lack of inaction as numbers surge and questioning whether his new policies are contributing to the increased numbers. 

However, President Biden has said that the influx of migrants is nothing new. “It happens every single, solitary year,” he said at Thursday’s press conference. “There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. That happens every year.”

While it is true that the numbers are usually higher in the early months of the year, the current number of unaccompanied children arriving today is much higher than that of 2019 or 2020. 

This past February there were 9,297 unaccompanied children apprehended at the border. This is a 30% increase from 2019 when the last major surge occurred but still below the peaks of 11,000 unaccompanied children in May of 2019 and 10,000 in June of 2014. However, these records are likely to be broken this year according to experts. 

Over the past 30 days, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have apprehended an average of 5,000 undocumented immigrants per day–about 500 of which are unaccompanied children. The current influx is said to be different than previous years, with officials citing larger numbers of unaccompanied children and families. 

Influx of unaccompanied children leaves them without appropriate shelter

The influx of migrant children has also led to issues with housing them in appropriate shelters. Unable to open child shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services fast enough to accommodate everyone, many children are being forced to remain at holding facilities along the border.

As of this past Wednesday, more than 5,000 migrant children and teens were stuck in Border Patrol facilities awaiting beds in child shelters.

“Unfortunately, on any given day, we may have upwards of 9,000 people in custody, which certainly puts a strain on our resources,” a Border Patrol official stated.

The Biden administration is working with other agencies to find more bed space, using places like the San Diego Convention Center to hold unaccompanied minors so they’re not sleeping in cells as they await more permanent shelter.

You might be interested: It will take two centuries for the gender wage gap to close for Latinas if we do nothing

In the long term, the Biden administration plans to deal more directly with issues in Central America that have contributed to the influx in migration. These plans include developing more legal avenues for migrants to seek asylum. President Biden has also just sent three top officials to Mexico and Guatemala as part of efforts to tackle the root causes of migration, which Vice President Harris has been tasked with leading. 

The issues at the border are nothing new, but the influx of migrants and unaccompanied children is indicative of greater humanitarian issues. From poverty and corruption to widespread unemployment due to the pandemic, addressing these underlying issues will be central to addressing the immigration issue.

President Biden to propose immigration reform bill that will legalize 11 million

During his first days in office, President Joe Biden’s first agenda is to address the long-elusive goal of immigration reform with a groundbreaking legislative package and immigration bill that will grant a quicker pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the country without legal status.

immigration reform

Photo by Metin Ozer on Unsplash

Biden’s immigration reform bill: “Restoring humanity to our immigration system”

On Saturday, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, sent a memo to the administration’s senior staff that said the new president’s agenda includes “the immigration bill he will send to Congress on his first day in office,” which Klain asserted would “restore humanity to our immigration system.”

Biden’s proposal lays out what would be the most sweeping and comprehensive immigration reform package since President Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which granted legal status to 3 million people who were in the country without documentation.

In an interview with Univision,  VP Kamala Harris gave a preview of the bill’s provisions. The new immigration bill will provide shorter pathways to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of people, including automatic green cards for immigrants with temporary protected status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. Wait times for U.S. citizenship would also decrease from 13 to eight years under this bill, and there would be an increase in the number of immigration judges to relieve backlog in cases.

This bill differs from many previous immigration bills passed under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The key difference being that the proposed legislation “would not contain any provisions directly linking an expansion of immigration with stepped-up enforcement and security measures,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, who has been consulted on the proposal by Biden staffers.

“This notion concerning immigration enforcement and giving Republicans everything they kept asking for … was flawed from the beginning,” she said.

Hincapié added Biden’s team would be able to bypass legislation to quickly make a number of administrative changes.

She expects him to announce several executive actions that would expand DACA, overturn Trump’s 2017 travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries and rescind Trump’s public charge rule, which allowed authorities to deny green cards to immigrants who use food stamps or other public benefits.

Setting a new tone: “It’s not going to be about walls.”

Under Biden’s immigration bill, immigrants would become eligible for legal permanent residence after five years and for U.S. citizenship after an additional three years — a faster path to citizenship than in previous immigration bills.

“I think this bill is going to lay an important marker in our country’s history,” said Lorella Praeli, an immigrant and longtime activist who has been talking with Biden’s staff, noting that the measure “will not seek to trade immigration relief for enforcement, and that’s huge.”

Praeli, president of Community Change Action, a progressive group based in Washington that advocates for immigrants, described the bill as “an important opening act.”

“If there is a silver lining to the Trump era, it’s that it should now be clear to everyone that our system needs a massive overhaul and we can no longer lead with detention and deportation,” she said.

You might be interested: “Kids in Cages” Warehouse detention center shuts down for renovations

On the topic of undocumented essential workers, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said “It’s time for essential workers to no longer be treated as disposable, but to be celebrated and welcomed as American citizens. If your labor feeds, builds and cares for our nation, you have earned the right to stay here with full legal protection, free from fear of deportation.”

Additionally, Leon Rodriguez, who was director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2014 to 2017, said that, “the public attitude toward immigration enforcement is at a different place in 2021 than it was at any point prior to the Trump administration. I think there just has been a lot of things about how immigration enforcement was executed under the Trump administration that didn’t sit right with a lot of Americans.”

However, he believes Biden’s overall approach will set an entirely different tone in the conversation of immigration reform in America. He sees a more hopeful, positive era ahead.

“It’s not going to be about walls and keeping people in Mexico,” he said.

While the ambitious bill is a great first step for the new administration, the bill will likely face months of political pushback on Capitol Hill by conservative voters, even with Democrats holding the White House and slender majorities in both chambers of Congress.

Still, if the broader bill were to die or take too long to pass, there are alternate venues Democratic leadership can take to legalize a substantial group of people — specifically the estimated 5 million essential workers now in the country without legal status.

One possible alternative would be to take advantage of COVID relief measures. Democratic leadership could decide to include measures offering legal status to essential workers via a process known as budget reconciliation. This process would only need 51 votes to pass the Senate.

“We are talking about potentially 5 million workers who have put their own lives on the line as essential workers,” Praeli said. “You cannot be essential and deportable.”

Immigrant mixed-households to receive stimulus checks

New stimulus checks are coming for jobless Americans. After months of negotiations, lawmakers struck a $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus deal. The new stimulus package was passed by the Senate earlier this week, just in time as nearly 12 million Americans are set to lose unemployment benefits the day after Christmas. 

People should start receiving their stimulus checks as early as next week. Checks will be sent via direct deposit for those with bank accounts.  In the spring, physical checks were mailed to Americans who didn’t have a bank account or for those the federal government didn’t have direct deposit information.

So what can we expect from the new stimulus package and who will be eligible to receive a stimulus check? Well, there have been some changes from the last stimulus package, one of the biggest being that mixed-status immigrant households will be eligible. 

Here’s what the stimulus package includes:

  • Americans who earned up to $75,000 in 2019 will receive a $600 direct payment. That is less than the $1,200 checks approved in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act in March. 
  • It provides $600 per child, up from $500 in the spring. The bill also includes $1,200 for couples making up to $150,000 a year.
  • The size of the benefit would be reduced for those earning more than $75,000, or $150,000 per married couple, similar to the last round of stimulus checks.
  • There is no cap on the number of children a household can claim, so a family of four would receive up to $2,400.

Who is eligible for stimulus checks:

  • For the first time, mixed-status households, or those where a family member doesn’t have a Social Security number, will be eligible to receive stimulus payments. This is a key change from the CARES Act.
  • Those without Social Security numbers, still aren’t eligible. But it would allow U.S. citizens who are married to foreign nationals without Social Security numbers to receive the aid.

You might be interested: COVID-19 Vaccination marks historic day in New Jersey

What else is included in the package?

The stimulus package will also include unemployment benefits will also extend all pandemic unemployment programs set to expire at the end of December by an additional 11-weeks through mid-March. 

The measure will also provide a federal unemployment benefit of $300 per week for up to 11 weeks. This however is less than the $600 previously provided under the CARES Act. 

Additionally, the stimulus package will include an extension of the small business Paycheck Protection Program, which expanded eligibility to local newspapers, broadcasters and nonprofits. It will direct another $20 billion to small business grants and $15 billion to live event venues.

“Kids in Cages” Warehouse detention center shuts down for renovations

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announces shut down of South-Texas “Ursula” warehouse detention center. The facility gained national attention when media coverage exposed the overcrowded, unsafe living conditions and showed “kids in cages” back in 2018. CBP officials say the facility will be closed for renovations until 2022. The renovations plan to redesign the facility and remove the chain-link partitions to provide more humane living conditions. 

Photo by Phil Botha on Unsplash

Warehouse detention center shuts down

Anyone who has been paying attention to immigration reform issues over the past few years will be familiar with the term “kids in cages” and the deplorable living conditions faced by migrants who have been detained for prolonged periods in detention centers along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The “Ursula” warehouse facility in South-Texas became infamous when new coverage revealed the harsh, dehumanizing living conditions migrants faced within the facility. Freezing, overcrowded, and filthy the facility packed immigrants–a vast majority of which were young children separated from family–into small chain-link enclosures. 

“Children were in freezing, packed cages and sleeping on concrete,” said Hope Frye in an article with the New York Times. As a lawyer who oversaw a visiting team of inspectors at the Ursula facility, she witnessed first-hand the terrible and upsetting conditions. “It was bone-chilling. Young children were violently ill, separated from their family.” 

Photo by Miko Guziuk on Unsplash

Since then, efforts have been made to put an end to the inhumane treatment of immigrants in these facilities. These renovations are only the first step toward reform at the border. 

“The new design will allow for updated accommodations, which will greatly improve the operating efficiency of the center as well as the welfare of individuals being processed,” Thomas Gresback, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector, said in an article with The Washington Post.

The renovation, which will be paid for by funds allocated by Congress, will include room partitions that will “afford modest housing accommodations” as well as updating processing areas and providing a recreational area for children. 

At its peak, the center housed over 2,000 immigrants, many being young women and children. The renovated center will significantly lower those numbers, aiming to provide space for 1,100 individuals. 

Ursula’s history and origins

The Ursula center was first opened in 2014 during the Obama administration as a response to a surge of Central American immigrants arriving at the border in search of asylum. At the time, the facility was a welcomed improvement to the previous cramped locations. During the 2014 surge, the bare-bones facilities were not equipped to handle the large influx of individuals, leaving many families out in the heat for hours in exteriors locations. The Ursula warehouse was acquired to remedy this and provide an indoor, climate-controlled environment.  

In 2014, migrants were processed and released quickly from the facilities so the population never grew as overcrowded and unsafe as it has in recent years. However, after the Trump Administration’s crackdown on immigration the facility soon became overpopulated as migrants were detained for periods of weeks and months on end in unsafe conditions. 

This past year, due to the pandemic, President Trump invoked emergency powers under public health laws to halt most immigration. As such, the facility has been unused since March with thousands of immigrants turned back to Mexico. 

In the fight for immigration reform and as an effort to offer protection to young immigrants, a federal judge ordered last week for the Trump administration to stop expelling young people who arrive on their own looking for asylum in the U.S. 

The future of immigration reform 

While the news of the Ursula facility renovations is welcomed news to immigrant advocates, this is only the first step toward immigration reform at the border. Advocates cautioned that more fundamental changes will be necessary to ensure that migrants are no longer stranded in detention centers for prolonged periods of time. 

“This feels a little bit like window dressing. It is overdue from the perspective that no one should be housed in cages,” said Michael Bochenek, senior counsel in the children’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, in an article with the New York Times. 

“The more fundamental shift that needs to happen is rigorous application of federal law and an agency standard that calls for expeditious transfer to more suitable arrangements for children and families,” Mr. Bochenek continued. “Nobody was really looking out for the kids. All they had were mats and foil blankets,” he said, describing the conditions he witnessed when visiting the warehouse as part of a monitoring team in 2018. “We talked to teenage girls caring for toddlers in cages. We looked over and saw a boy 7 or 9 years old. The kid was beside himself in tears. He was in deep distress and there were no adults anywhere nearby to find out what was wrong.”

You might be interested: November 1 National Day of Remembrance of Latinxs killed by Covid-19

Latinxs children detention centers

Protests in Elizabeth, NJ about immigrant children detention. Photo credit Chris Boese – Unsplash.com

It’s clear that the current system needs to be reformed. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to do his part to reverse the Trump administration’s approach to immigration and border control. He plans to cut off funds to the expanded border wall and restore the process for welcoming asylum applicants into the country while their cases are in progress. 

Renovations to the Ursula detention center facility are estimated to last 18 months, which will leave border agents without a large-volume facility if a new immigration surge occurs. Last month, over 69,000 migrants were taken into custody along the southern border. Most have been processed at smaller, less-crowded facilities. Still, this 21 percent increase in migrants since September suggests a growing increase in immigration as many individuals are fleeing Central America after recent hurricane devastation, economic distress, and coronavirus related hardships.

Don’t let President Trump keep you from participating in the 2020 Census

The 2020 census is a time for every person residing in the U.S. to be counted and represented. And counting everyone means everyone, regardless of immigration status. Yet President Trump continues to make moves that are hindering the ability for all residents to participate in this constitutionally mandated census. 

How the Trump Administration is trying to deter Latinos from participating

In an article with The New York Times, Janet Murguía–president and CEO of UnidosUS, the country’s largest Latino civil rights organization–urges Latinos to participate in the census. 

“Latinos should not let the president intimidate them into not being counted,” she says.

In the past few months, the Trump administration has made various efforts to affect the census with the intention of excluding minorities who tend to lean Democratic so that federal funds and congressional representation could be redirected to Republican-friendly states. Last month, President Trump ordered the Commerce Department to do what it could to exclude undocumented immigrants and this past Monday it was announced that the 2020 census would end a month early. However, these efforts are in vain. 

“The president doesn’t have the power to overwrite the 14th Amendment, which calls for counting everyone, regardless of their immigration status,” Murguía writes. 

Legally, every resident must be counted. There are few exceptions to this, such as tourists or foregin businesspeople who are not long-term inhabitants of the U.S., but Murguía notes that this does not apply to immigrants who “whether undocumented or otherwise, have put down roots, who own businesses, have become members of their communities and raised families.” 

These efforts by the Trump Administration are simply scare tactics and stunts made to deter minorities from participating in the census, but it is crucial that they do. 

“When the census takes that once every ten years snapshot of our community, Latinas have to make sure that we are part of the photograph that is being taken in that moment,” says Amy Hinojosa, President and CEO of MANA, in the video below.   

Why census data is crucial in building thriving communities

Not participating in the 2020 census will cause real harm and lasting effects to states with large immigrant populations. 

“The fear brought about by the Trump administration’s latest action could result in immigrant-friendly states losing out on federal funds and congressional representation,” writes Murguía. “If immigrants, undocumented or not, or anyone married to an undocumented immigrant, fail to fill out a census form out of fear, they will not be counted and that could mean that children and adults who are U.S. citizens in that household would likely also not be accounted for. And like votes, every person counts.” 

Be A Census Taker (Photo courtesy of 2020census.gov)

Additionally, ending the census a month early will exclude minorities who are more likely to be counted by in-person census workers. Every single person counted helps to bring more funds and representation for their communities. Being counted means having a voice and say in how and where funds are distributed. 

“If just one person is deterred from filling out the census, that’s money that doesn’t go to community schools, hospitals, children’s health programs and the like,” Murguía writes. 

For minority communities, lack of funding can have damaging effects, leading to program cuts that many rely on. Census data is crucial to these communities because it is used to decided where funds will be allocated. These funds are used for programs like Head Start for students, for parks and recreation, and access to health care. 

“We need to make sure there is enough information so that we can build communities where Latino families can thrive,” says Amy Hinojosa. 

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Don’t fall for it: Make your voice heard!

The first step to building those thriving communities is to fill out the 2020 census and be counted. The scare tactics pushed by the Trump Administration hold no legal weight. 

“Just…don’t fall for it,” Murguía urges. “Mr. Trump’s supporters should realize that this will be just another empty promise to be tossed in the pile with others like the one about Mexico paying for the wall, that achieving 6 percent economic growth would be easy, the 2017 tax cuts would pay for themselves, or that the coronavirus would disappear by the summer.” 

Filling out the census form is quick and easy and your data will be protected. There are laws against sharing your data for anything other than its intended purpose, so do not be afraid to have your voice heard.

If you require help or would prefer to fill out the census in Spanish those options are also available to you here.

“Don’t let the president stop you from being counted and contributing to your communities,” Murguía concludes. “He doesn’t want Latinos and immigrants to skip the census because they don’t count, but because they do.” 

Your voice matters. Representation and funds for Latino communities is crucial to building thriving environments. So do your part today by filling out the 2020 census and ensure that your voice is heard.

Covid19, poultry farms

Poultry farms and Latino workers at the forefront of COVID-19

When you are enjoying your barbecue chicken or chicken wings this Memorial Day weekend, take a few seconds to think who has made this possible for you. Latino workers employed at poultry farms are subject to discrimination, exploitation and marked wage discrepancies working in inhumane conditions. Now, they are suffering high impact COVID-19 contagion.

poultry farms

A report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at Covid-19 cases among US workers in 115 meat and poultry processing facilities across 19 states. It found that among approximately 130,000 workers at these facilities, there had been 4,913 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 20 deaths.The shocking videos released by Oxfam America about Latino workers’ exploitation at poultry farms all over the country may appear as a surprise for many Americans, but in reality this type of abuse has been going on for decades.

Latinos make up the majority of the labor force in the American meat industry. Most of these Hispanic workers are new immigrants afforded few job opportunities in rural America. They take on jobs Americans do not want –and work in beef, pork or poultry farms ranks as one of the least desirable jobs.

Working in poultry farms a dangerous proposition

The complete report reveals the inhumane conditions that Latinos are exposed to in poultry farms all over the USA. Conducted by Oxfam America, a global organization working to advocate against poverty, hunger, and injustice in over 90 countries, their researchers and reporters show the deplorable work conditions these unfortunate workers have had to endure on a daily basis over a 3-year period of investigative reporting.

Covid19, poultry farms

Tyson Foods installed protective plastic divisions between workers to prevent spread of coronavirus (Photo Courtesy Tyson Foods)

 

Working in the poultry industry is not only physically demanding but extremely dirty. There is risk of disease and injury; the environment is hot and humid and the stench is unbearable. Just imagine the amount of fecal waste produced daily by thousands of chickens.

What Latinos and other workers endure very day

Among other shocking details, the released video reveals workers at these plants wear diapers because they are not allowed to take bathroom breaks or have a law-mandated downtime to drink or eat. Many urinate and defecate while standing in the line and are not allowed to drink fluids despite working in unbearable hot environments.

Besides suffering humiliation, these workers are also susceptible to seriously health problems from inhalation of aerosolized bird fecal material and coming into contact with feathers. Most of them do not wear protective gear.

Poultry farms_chicken line

Many women also work in such environment and sadly, during their menstrual periods, are also denied the law-mandated breaks as supervisors are under constant pressure to maintain a certain speed of production.

Latinos interviewed for the report said that working at poultry farms was often life threatening, living in constant fear of losing their jobs, working while sick or injured or even with the threat of being turned onto immigration authorities.

Poultry farms take care of their chickens but don’t take care of their workers

Last week, John Tyson, chairman of the board with Tyson Foods Inc, took out a full page advertisement in the New York Times, The Washington Post and The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to express his concerns about the food supply chain: “Millions of animals – chickens, pigs and cattle – will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities. The food supply chain is breaking,” he said. Mark Jordan, executive director of LEAP Market Analytics, said chicken production was currently 15% down while beef and pork had been affected even worse with production 30% lower. (Cited on PoultryWorld.com)

The poultry farms investigated in the report included Tyson foods, Perdue Farms, Sanderson farms and Pilgrim’s Pride. This industry made $32.7 billion in 2014 and each year the profits have been increasing. Yet little is spent on improving the working environment or offering health benefits to these workers.

Poultry farms_brands

“The top four companies produce hundreds of different products, and market under at least 30 different brand names. Perdue sells 213 poultry products under their Perdue brand. Tyson sells 97 products under their Tyson brand (and many more under other brands), Pilgrim’s sells 54, and Sanderson Farms sells 49 different products, “ the report says.

There are an estimated 300,000 Latino workers in 174 factories but documenting their background is difficult. In general most poultry farms workers are undocumented young male Latinos.

The majority of plant workers are non-unionized and many are totally unaware of US labor rights.

Other complaints noted direct discrimination, dead-end jobs with no improvement opportunities and lowest pay in the industry –often worse for undocumented workers and refugees. The majority of these workers are paid through a cash system and no health benefits are offered.

Despite these poultry farms workers suffer a number of injuries at work while hanging, cleaning and cutting the poultry, the majority had no sick days off or health benefits. The US Department of Labor officially classifies poultry as a “hazardous industry” and has calculated that poultry workers are injured five times more than workers in other industries.

Responsibility starts from the top down

Oxfam America’s report also revealed the abusive conditions in which these workers are not only granted no benefits but also are stripped of dignity through name calling, screaming and bullying by managers. Women also complained of sexual harassment from managers who do not take the complaints seriously or just tell them to leave.

Pultry farms carpal tunnel

Anecdotal reports of abusive behavior in the poultry industry have persisted by decades but so far the authorities have just turned a deaf ear –after all these are only “expendable” workers who can quickly be replaced.

The solution is not simple without comprehensive immigration reform and labor law enforcement. Large corporations hire these “invisible” undocumented workers, a condition that makes abuse and exploitation possible because these workers have no rights other than those of human decency.

So far, the Department of Labor at a federal level has not made any statements regarding these allegations but if past history is true then the trend will continue. This is not only a unique problem to the poultry industry as Latinos face abuse in many industries.

In 2009, the Department of Labor filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama. The federal department alleged that Tyson Foods did not keep accurate records and failed to pay production line employees for the time they spend donning and doffing safety and sanitary gear, and performing other related work activities. The violations covered the period from the year 2000 to the present and affect approximately 3,000 current and former workers at the plant.

The initial investigation began in April 2000 as part of the department’s Wage and Hour Division’s poultry enforcement initiative. The Labor Department filed the district court complaint in May 2002 following the company’s failure to comply with the law and to pay back wages. The first jury trial, which began in February 2009, ended in a mistrial. The Labor Department chose to pursue a second trial in August 2009 to secure a ruling that Tyson was failing to compensate its employees lawfully.

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At the time, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said, “This is a victory for workers, and the result of years of dedicated efforts to protecting the rights of working Americans on the part of attorneys, investigators and others within the Labor Department.”

(from Department of Labor Press release https://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/esa/esa20091232.htm)

NJ driver's licenses

Governor Murphy signs new law expanding access to NJ driver’s licenses

Governor Phil Murphy has signed a new law (A4743) to expand access to NJ driver’s licenses. The bill give more residents of the garden state the opportunity to earn a license while decreasing the number of uninsured drivers on the road, improving safety. New Jersey joins thirteen other states including California, New York, and the District of Columbia, in allowing residents to obtain a driver’s license regardless of immigration status. 

NJ driver's licenses

Announcement of the passing of the legislation by Hon. Governor of New Jersey Phil Murphy.

Safer, fairer roads for all

NJ Diver's licenses

Official Picture of Governor of New Jersey Phil Murphy

“Expanding access to NJ driver’s licenses is critical for the safety of New Jerseyans and a step toward building a stronger and fairer New Jersey for all,” said Governor Murphy. “Allowing residents the opportunity to obtain driver’s licenses regardless of their immigration status will decrease the number of uninsured drivers and increase safety on our roads. I thank my partners in the Legislature for sending this important bill to my desk. 

The bill will create two categories of NJ driver’s licenses and non-driver identification cards: federally compliant REAL ID, which is only available for documented residents, and the NJ Standard Basic driver’s license and ID, which will be available to all New Jersey residents, regardless of immigration status. The bill also ensures that those who hold a Standard Basic driver’s license are treated fairly, prohibiting insurance companies from charging a driver more for having a Standard Basic license and prohibiting employment, housing, and public-accommodation discrimination against an individual for holding a Standard Basic driver’s license or ID. 

The bill will also require the Chief Administrator of Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) to establish a two year public awareness campaign to inform the public about the availability of and the requirements to obtain a Standard Basic License or REAL ID. The bill also creates an 11-member advisory board to review the MVC’s implementation of the bill and the issuance of Standard Basic and REAL ID driver’s licenses, with a report for the Board to be issued to the Governor and Legislature containing its findings and recommendations no later than 12 months following the bill’s effective date, which is January 1, 2021. 

Latino community celebrates huge win

NJ driver's licenses, Senator Teresa Ruiz

Senator Teresa Ruiz (L) with Susana G Baumann, Latinas in Business Inc. at the 2019 Latina SmallBiz Expo.

This bill is a huge win for the Latino community and is the culmination of over fifteen years of struggle for this legislation. Since the passing of the bill there has been an outpouring of responses in support of it. 

“It is incredible to imagine the impact it will have on the 168,000 children with undocumented parents and over 400,000 undocumented immigrants of driving age,” said Senator Teresa Ruiz. “These are mothers and fathers striving to make a better life for their children. It is extremely difficult to navigate this state without a car and like every New Jerseyan, they have jobs to get to, children to drop off at school and lives to live. Not only will this law make our roads safer, it will also positively impact our economy and workforce. Other states that have approved similar legislation have seen a significant decrease in car insurance premiums and hit-and-run accidents. We expect to see the same he

“Since the founding of the Latino Action Network in 2009, this has been our number one legislative priority,” said Christian Estevez, President of LAN. “”Governor Murphy’s signing of this bill is a landmark moment for our community and the entire state of New Jersey. It makes our state, a more humane and safe place to live. The coming together of a wide range of constituencies made this possible. It challenges the tone of intolerance set by President Trump at the national level.”

“As the 15th state to pass this legislation, we are shouting from the rooftops that immigrants are welcome in New Jersey,” said Adriana Abizadeh, Executive Director of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF). “As an organization focused on the inclusion of immigrants in this state, I am heartened by the progress we have made. It doesn’t stop here. We will continue to tackle inequalities through policy for some of the most vulnerable among us. ¡Si se pudo!” 

This bill will undoubtedly change the lives of thousands of New Jersey residents, affording immigrants the means to access educational and job opportunities and gain greater mobility in their everyday lives while also ensuring road safety. 

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Margarita Rodriguez, a member of Make the Road New Jersey, knows first-hand the struggle of navigating New Jersey without a license. As a mother, she has at times had to take three buses just to take her son to the doctor and to school. “My life will change now that I can have access to a NJ driver’s license,” she said. “This victory belongs to immigrant brothers and sisters from across New Jersey who have fought so hard for so many years to be able to drive, and for the respect and dignity we deserve. We thank Governor Murphy, who has stood with our campaign from day one, and to our incredible sponsors, especially Assemblymembers Quijano and Schaer, as well as, Senators Vitale, Ruiz, Cryan, Pou and Cruz-Perez, and to Senate President Sweeney and Speaker Coughlin for their leadership.”