Across the state, community leaders and organizations are mobilizing support for the Values Act

Trenton, NJ [May 8, 2023] - As New Jersey’s legislators resume committee hearings in Trenton, immigrant justice advocates call for a hearing on the Values Act (A1986/S512), a bill that would strengthen privacy protections to encourage immigrant New Jerseyans to seek public services, stand up for their rights, and participate fully in their communities without fear of deportation.

“Many New Jerseyans still fear that their personal information will be collected and shared with ICE. These fears aren’t unfounded – New Jersey is complicit in collecting more information than needed to determine eligibility and cooperating with federal immigration enforcement beyond what is required by law,” said Erik Cruz Morales, Policy and Advocacy Manager at the New Jersey Alliance. ”The legislature can pass critical protections right now that keep immigrants’ information safe and importantly, keep overreach from federal agencies at bay. Now that the legislature is hearing committees, it’s time for the Values Act to be scheduled.”

Recently, the technology magazine WIRED reported on ICE’s widespread abuse of summonses to collect personal information from elementary schools, health clinics, and publicly funded State agencies. 

“I spent 4 and a half years in 7 different detention centers across the eastern US. During this time, I experienced some of the worst treatment of my life and was treated as less than human. I was transferred in retaliation for speaking out about the horrible abuses I witnessed and experienced firsthand. New Jersey has the power to pass legislation which could prevent this from happening to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who call this state home, and it is shameful to see elected officials turn a blind eye to this issue,” said Ernest Francois, a member of First Friends of New Jersey/New York.

New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the nation, where nearly one in four residents is an immigrant. Though immigrant communities have fought hard for, and won, several sanctuary and inclusive policies and programs over the years, the State has yet to codify permanent privacy protections that would limit federal immigration enforcement’s access to State-collected personal data.

Member organizations that are part of the NJAIJ coalition have raised this issue since 2017 when initial protections were established through the office of Attorney General’s Immigrant Trust Directive. Though these protections are a critical first step, advocates warn that they are not permanent and need to be strengthened. Last week alone, organizations mobilized hundreds of community members in commemoration of International Workers Day and marched in support of protections for immigrant workers, including the Values Act. 

“On May 1st, I was one of the almost 100 essential immigrant workers who, alongside clergy and allies, marched around the Federal Immigration Building in Newark to protest unjust immigration laws; also as a call to action to legislators in Trenton to hold a hearing on the Values Act and pass it NOW, so that we the immigrant community do not have to worry that every stop for a broken tail-light or enrollment of our kids in school or for healthcare will result in someone calling ICE and breaking up our families. Our ‘Jericho Walk’ was made to symbolize the biblical story of walls of oppression brought down by the cries of common people. Now we need Trenton to show they are listening by making the Values Act law. Our lawmakers must make sure that New Jersey immigrant workers can live without fear and can celebrate our humanity; pass the Values Act now,” said Ceneida Osorio Salazar of Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center

“We marched for International Workers Day for all workers of the world, especially workers in Princeton from all industries: domestic workers, day laborers, restaurant workers, professors, teachers and graduate students. As we organize our immigrant workers, one of our demands is to push for the Values Act which will protect ALL immigrants in the state. When we marched, we chanted ‘nothing about us, without us.’ With election season just around the corner, our communities are being asked for turnout and photo ops, yet basic protections for our people have stalled. We can’t wait any longer,” said Ana Paola Pazmino, Executive Director, Unidad Latina en Acción NJ

The Values Act would ensure that when New Jerseyans seek public services, enroll in programs, or stand up for their rights to report abuse or harassment, their personal information and immigration status is not collected or shared unless required by law or an Article III judge’s warrant. Without these protections, routine interactions like a school drop off, community health screening, or traffic stop can result in permanent consequences like detention or deportation. The bill was introduced in early 2022 but has yet to receive a hearing. Advocates urge that the time to act is now, as very few weeks remain before the legislature again takes a summer recess following the July 1st budget deadline – a recess that is likely to see little committee activity due to this November’s state legislative elections.

"As the legislative session speeds by, the pressure is rising for New Jersey elected officials to advance key bills like the Values Act that would build trust and safety for all New Jerseyans,” said Sarah Fajardo, Policy Director at ACLU-NJ. “We cannot afford to keep placing immigrants' rights and protections on the back burner. We call on the Legislature to pass the Values Act swiftly to provide protections to the communities who need them most."

“No one should face discrimination or unequal access to support because of their immigration status, racial or ethnic background. The Values Act, if passed, will provide critical privacy protections that allow the 1 in 4 people who identify as immigrants within New Jersey to seek public services and be active members within the state without fear of deportation,” said Madina P. Ouedraogo, MPA-PNP, CAIR-NJ’s Government Affairs Manager. “Through the Values Act, members of New Jersey's diverse and vibrant immigrant communities will be humanized, protected, and granted the services and resources they need to thrive.”

Danuska Martinez, a member of First Friends New Jersey and New York said, “Detention took me away from my 5 children, the youngest of which was only 11 months old at the time. I can’t get back the time I lost with my children, but we can make sure this doesn’t happen to others. This is why we need our lawmakers to prioritize the needs of New Jersey’s immigrant communities now!”

The Values Act is supported by key leaders in the legislature. Authored by Assembly Member Raj Mukherji and Senator Cryan, the bill is also sponsored by Senate leaders Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, Senate Judiciary Chair Brian Stack, and Legislative Latino Caucus Chair Nellie Pou, alongside key members of Assembly Leadership including Majority Conference Leader Annette Qujiano, Speaker Pro Tempore Benjie Wimberly, and Policy Chair Gary Schaer. In total, 8 Senators are sponsors of the bill and 17 members of the Assembly.

In a recent town hall about the importance of these protections, Assembly Member Reginald Atkins was joined by community voices to raise the urgency of passing the bill now. 

“The Values Act is very important and is a crucial step in our state's efforts to protect and uphold the rights of all of our citizens. This is an opportunity to not just speak it, but also support it…It recognizes the inherent dignity of every human being, regardless of their immigration status, and it seeks to protect them. In New Jersey, we have 9.3 million people, and it’s important to protect the rights of everyone who calls New Jersey home,” said Assembly Member Reginald Atkins during April’s Values Act Townhall.

The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice is the state’s largest immigration coalition, bringing together over 50 member organizations to fight for policies that empower and protect immigrants.