Diverse Alliance launches campaign to make New Jersey more immigrant-friendly

New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice to focus on organizing communities around policies to improve immigrants’ lives

For Immediate Release

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Contact: Johanna CalleNJAIJ Program Coordinator, 973-474-9850 (office) and 201-580-3060 (cell)

JERSEY CITY AND CAMDEN — Immigrants are pivotal members of our communities and deserve the rights and protections that will allow them to pursue the American dream as residents of New Jersey. That was the message delivered Tuesday by the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice – a new, diverse coalition from New Jersey’s faith-based, grassroots, civil liberties, community services, and labor communities – in two locations: Jersey City facing the Statue of Liberty and in Camden at a local church. The Alliance announced the official launch of its statewide campaign, New Jersey for All, to achieve policies addressing issues of justice and equality in key areas affecting the lives of immigrants: labor, law enforcement, identifications and driver’s licenses. The Alliance plans to pass ordinances and resolutions at the municipal and county levels while also pushing the legislature for a statewide driver’s license for all.

The launch of the Alliance and its campaign included representatives from diverse member organizations hailing from across the Garden State:

  • Blanca Molina, Executive Director, Centro Comunitario CEUS
  • Chia-Chia Wang, Advocacy and Organizing Director, American Friends Service Committee
  • Diana Autin, Co-Executive Director, Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, Inc.
  • Diana Mejia, Executive Director, Wind of the Spirit
  • Elsa Candelario, Executive Director, Hispanic Family Center of Southern New Jersey
  • Erika Nava, Policy Analyst, New Jersey Policy Perspective
  • Father Eugene Squeo, Haiti Solidarity Network of the North East
  • Jason Rowe, Assistant Service Area Director, Catholic Charities Diocese of Metuchen
  • Joseph Fleming, Executive Director, Faith in New Jersey
  • Joyce Campbell, Associate Executive Director, Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton
  • Kevin Brown, Vice President of 32BJ and New Jersey State Director, 32BJ SEIU
  • Louis Kimmel, Executive Director, New Labor
  • Lucia Gomez, Executive Director, La Fuente, a Tri-State Worker & Community Fund, Inc.
  • Milly Silva, Executive Vice President, 1199SEIU
  • Renée Koubiadis, Advocacy Coordinator, National Association of Social Workers – NJ Chapter
  • Sally Pillay, Executive Director, First Friends NJ & NY
  • Silvia Hernandez, Executive Director, El Centro Hispanoamericano
  • Ted Fetter, Immigration Task Force President, Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of NJ
  • Theo Oshiro, Executive Director, Make the Road New Jersey
  • Trina Scordo, Executive Director, New Jersey Communities United
  • Udi Ofer, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey

In the coming months, the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice will work with member organizations and partners from across the state to build a movement with immigrant communities and their allies to create a wave of immigrant-friendly policies that promote embracing immigrant members of New Jersey communities in neighborhoods all over the state, across political lines and from all walks of life. In this campaign, New Jerseyans will stand united to embrace their neighbors and make the state immigrant friendly.

The Alliance will organize around the rights of workers, tensions between law enforcement and immigrant communities, municipal identification, and driver’s licenses, recognizing these four issues as the key priorities of many of New Jersey’s immigrants.

New Jersey has the fourth largest immigrant population in the nation, as noted in the New Jersey Policy Perspective Brief, “Share the Road: It’s Time for New Jersey to Extend Driving Privileges to all Eligible Drivers, Including Undocumented Residents.” An estimated 525,000 undocumented residents call New Jersey home.

“The promise of America is that this is a land of opportunity where everyone is created equal,” said Kevin Brown, Vice President of 32BJ and New Jersey State Director. “But how, as Americans, can we say we live by these words our country was founded upon when undocumented people are treated like second class citizens who are often denied basic rights? 32BJ has been working to right this wrong on behalf of our members and the millions of undocumented people in this country who work hard, pay taxes, obey our laws and live in our communities. We’re pleased to join this coalition of like-minded groups and individuals who share our goal of comprehensive immigration reform that embraces immigrants and gives them a path to citizenship.”

Community members across the state are organizing to support this platform and are committed to elevating the issues that matter to the immigrant community to elected officials in their localities.

"Make the Road New Jersey, an immigrant membership-based organization, is proud to join the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice,” said Elizabeth resident Javier Escobar, a member of Make the Road New Jersey. “New Jersey is our home. It's where we work, worship and raise our families. As we wait on federal action, we will fight to make sure New Jersey respects the rights and dignity of all immigrants."

Other states already issue driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, and New Jersey is far behind, the Alliance declared.

“The Alliance is a powerful new vehicle to channel the aspirations of immigrants and their allies across the state, and the Alliance platform speaks to the barriers and injustices immigrant members of our faith-communities have to navigate every day,” said Faith in New Jersey Executive Director Joseph Fleming. “One issue our members have been galvanized by is the need for state legislation that will grant driver’s licenses to undocumented residents. New Jersey needs to join the 10 other states that have already taken this step to make our roads and communities safer for everyone.”

By organizing in all communities toward a statewide driver’s license, the Alliance is asking local policy makers to show their support of issues that affect immigrant communities by passing resolutions in support of a statewide policy that would issue drivers licenses to all.

“Driver’s licenses matter to all immigrants currently struggling to support their families in New Jersey,” said Trina Scordo, Executive Director of New Jersey Communities United. “We must reject the system that has created a two-tiered society in which one group of people must sacrifice their safety to simply engage is the basic necessities of life. In short, driver’s licenses will create a sustainable way of life for an estimated 464,000 families in New Jersey, therefore strengthening our economy.”

The Migration Policy Institute has explored the lives of immigrants who live without identification, unable to open bank accounts and denied entry to some government buildings.  While the state has the power to issue driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, counties and municipalities also have the authority to issue identification cards to members of their communities for civic purposes. The Alliance urges local governments to act on that authority by granting much-needed identification to community members who cannot otherwise obtain state-issued identification.

Immigrant communities suffer from wage theft at disproportionate rates, according to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. For example, when Superstorm Sandy affected New Jersey, the member organizations of the Alliance for Immigrant Justice heard reports of undocumented immigrants assisting with the rebuilding efforts who were never paid for their work because of their immigration status, which was reported on Buzzfeed. New Brunswick has already placed restrictions on business owners who are found to have stolen wages from employees, and other communities in New Jersey are considering similar policies.

While not paying workers in full is illegal, undocumented immigrants often fear taking recourse, and with good reason. In July 2013, the Huffington Post reported on a Washington, D.C.-area worker who faced deportation proceedings for reporting wage theft.

“Wage theft is an issue that has a huge impact on communities all throughout New Jersey,” said Louis Kimmel, Executive Director of New Labor. “When workers are not getting paid in full for the work they do, not only is it morally wrong and illegal, it also undercuts business that do the right thing, and workers and their families have less to contribute to the local and state economies.  We need policies that strengthen and promote the growth of our communities because In New Jersey we're all in this together.”

Relationships with law enforcement in communities of immigrants have suffered due to the collaboration between local police and ICE, which violates constitutional precedents establishing immigration enforcement as a federal function. As a result, immigrants are less likely to report crimes and search for help from law enforcement, which makes communities less safe.

This diverse coordinated effort is much needed in the state, and the Alliance will work at all levels of government to create a New Jersey for All. Immigrants in New Jersey are part of our communities and our local and statewide policies should reflect that, said the Alliance.

“Immigrants add to cultural and economic richness of New Jersey and are an integral part of our community,” said Chia-Chia Wang, Advocacy and Organizing Director, American Friends Service Committee. “New Jersey state and local policies need to be created or changed to address the unique problems immigrants face. Many of us have come together to identify key policy issues and are working to create conversations in immigrant and citizen communities to discuss what these policies would look like.”

The NJAIJ Executive Committee also announced the launch of www.njimmigrantjustice.org, a clearinghouse for information and activism in support of immigrant friendly policies in New Jersey and resources for immigrant communities.

New Jersey would become the eleventh state to pass driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, should such legislation go into effect. Municipalities and counties such as across the state have already passed policies that address issues of identification, labor protections, and community policing.

Read about the mission of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice at www.njimmigrantjustice.org