ADVOCATES CELEBRATE PASSAGE OF KEY IMMIGRATION BILLS, URGE GOVERNOR MURPHY TO SIGN THEM INTO LAW
Trenton, NJ [Monday, Jan 7, 2024] - Today, members of New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice (NJAIJ) alongside statewide racial and social justice advocates, celebrated the historic passages of Data Disaggregation Bill S2415 in the Senate and Language Access Bill A3837. Members also celebrated the landmark protections passed under the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. NJAIJ members packed both chambers and cheered as the Data Disaggregation bill, sponsored by Senators Gopal and Ruiz, passed in a 32-2 Senate vote, and the Language Access bill, sponsored by Assemblymembers Jaffer, Park, and Stanely, passed in a 56-18 Assembly vote.
“These laws go to the heart of what it means to be seen, heard, and understood. Today, New Jersey has made a tremendous step forward in ensuring that millions are effectively counted and can have access to critical resources and services,” said Amber Reed, President of AAPI NJ. “New Jersey’s 1.1-million-strong Asian American and Pacific Islander community is extraordinarily diverse, and for too long, too many of us have been in the shadows. This legislation will improve our safety, health, and well-being, while sending the important message that we belong and that we matter. We are grateful for the bills' champions, the Legislature, and the Governor’s Office, and for the wide-reaching coalition who made today a reality."
“Passage of the bill requiring disaggregated data to be collected will create a truer picture of our diverse communities and dispel the misleading narrative that all AAPIs are well off and don’t need support. We thank the Governor, and our champions, Senator Gopal and Assemblymember Stanley for this important step to ensuring better transparency in data collection on multiple fronts ranging from access to affordable housing, health disparities and legal services,” said Anjali Mehrotra, Commissioner, NJ AAPI Commission
New Jersey has the second highest proportion of immigrants of all U.S. states spanning over 50 different countries and speaking over 155 languages. Over 40% of immigrants do not speak or read English proficiently, resulting in language barriers that prevent fair and equal access to state agency and public services. Language Access Bill S2459/A3837 will require all state agencies that provide direct services to provide translation and interpretation in the state’s top 7 languages. In the similar spirit of granting access and visibility, Data Disaggregation Bill S2415/A3092 would require agencies that collect demographic information to disaggregate for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to include Asian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian and Indian diaspora residents. Current categories used by New Jersey state agencies collapse over 70 ethnicities and countries of origin into just two racial groups (Asian and white), rendering distinct needs and differences within these communities invisible.
Over the last two years, sponsors and supporters alike have called in personal lived experiences or those of their families to emphasize the importance of these bills, and how access to timely and accurate information saves lives. In the final votes today and in last week’s committees, lawmakers from both parties also testified to their personal experience translating for parents or losing access to their heritage when immigrant grandparents decided not to pass on the family language for fear of stigma and discrimination against younger generations.
"When people are in need, or especially during emergencies, anyone in New Jersey should be able to connect to the resources available to them,” said Senator Teresa Ruiz. “We saw people struggling to access critical government services unnecessarily during the pandemic because of the language barrier. Now our state entities will be better prepared to assist all of our residents regardless of what language they speak."
“I want to thank our Senate Sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Ruiz for her steadfast leadership in pushing for this legislation,” said Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer. “As our advocate partners have highlighted, every New Jersey resident has a right to accessible government resources. I am so proud to culminate my legislative career with a bill that takes a significant step towards a more fair and accessible system.”
“This is a big deal. We all know how difficult it is to navigate the labyrinth of state government forms, whether that’s at the MVC or the Department of Human Services - now imagine those forms aren’t in your native language,” said Assemblywoman Ellen Park. “This bill ensures access to public services will be determined by eligibility, not by language proficiency and I could not be more proud to be a part of this legislation. Looking forward to seeing this swiftly signed into law.”
The widespread support for both bills stands in stark contrast to the rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric that has taken hold of the state over the last few months as asylum seekers fleeing danger pass through or settle in New Jersey. Across NJAIJ’s coalition, advocates reflect on Language Access as a basic tool for providing equal opportunity and access. They also pointed to how data disaggregation will transform their ability to fight for their communities once they are able to gain greater visibility and information about diverse experiences.
"Language is the fundamental tool for understanding the world, culture, and interacting in different contexts and situations,” said Araceli Argueta, Advocacy and Organizing Director at the American Friends Service Committee NJ Immigrants Rights Program. “Debating and passing the Language Access bill is about giving communities a voice, ensuring rights, and recognizing the challenges and complexities of the various systems that are supposed to provide care in New Jersey."
"Language Access significantly bolsters government service delivery. The absence of such provisions challenges language minority communities, impeding their ability to effectively engage with vital systems encompassing education, health, and human services,” said Johan Mora Valverde, Youth Coordinator SPAN Parent Advocacy Network. “New Jersey's rich diversity necessitates a nuanced understanding of state priorities, and supporting data disaggregation aligns with SPAN's commitment to fostering transparency and addressing systemic inequities within our state."
“Today is a major victory for everyone invested in making New Jersey a more inclusive state,” said Marleina Ubel, Senior Policy Analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP). “When every resident can access the public services and programs available to them, and when government is collecting better data that truly captures our rich diversity, the closer we are to having every voice heard and every individual accounted for. This is what it looks like to have a government and public institutions that work for all of us.”
“We are extremely grateful to our coalition partners for lifting their voices in unison to support inclusive and equitable policies in New Jersey. Our community showed its power in numbers to shed light on the profound impact language access and data disaggregation have on our communities. We appreciate the commitment of our state legislators and leadership in advancing this critical legislation,” said Lady Jimenez Torres, Policy Director at New Jersey Director at New Jersey for Immigrant Children. “There were roadblocks along the way and we celebrate today knowing this is the first of many steps in the right direction. We are ready to build on this foundation, collaborating to refine and strengthen language accessibility and data disaggregation in our Garden State. We are a step closer to making New Jersey a state where every child and their families can thrive, a true opportunity state.”
“As one of the most diverse states in the country, today’s passage of S2459/A3837 represents an important and long-overdue step in ensuring that New Jersey’s immigrant communities have equitable access to information, resources, and opportunities and allow for our state government to communicate and build trust with the communities they serve. We commend and thank Senate Majority Leader Ruiz, Assemblywoman Jaffer and legislative leaders for their support and commitment to advancing language access and urge Governor Murphy to swiftly sign this bill into law. We look forward to continuing to work with lawmakers in taking additional steps toward building a more welcoming and accessible state for all New Jerseyans”, said Alejandra Sorto, Campaign Strategist of ACLU of New Jersey.
While advocates from around the state celebrated the passages of both bills, they reminded lawmakers the work is not yet finished. While both bills provide strong foundations, they have over time altered from their original language. The Language Access bill provides a strong framework to responsibly provide access for the most limited English proficient New Jerseyans, and advocates are hopeful that the data reporting mechanisms in the bill allow for the fight for additional languages to continue. The Data Disaggregation bill was also subject to a conditional veto that now extends the implementation timeline before the first period of data collection begins. Regardless of their initial starts, advocates are assured that these bills provide the groundwork to continue fighting for the resources and opportunities their communities deserve.
“Today’s win is a testament to the strength of our immigrant communities, who refused to be silenced during this fight and will continue pushing for a New Jersey that represents them accurately and speaks for all,” says Erik Cruz-Morales, Policy & Advocacy Manager at the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “We will keep coming together to make sure that our communities will have fair and equal access to resources and representation that is already rightfully ours. Passing language access and data disaggregation bills is only the beginning.”
“For too long, our communities have been ignored or even willfully silenced, but today’s victories serve as a reminder that immigrants and communities of color in New Jersey are always prepared to fight for visibility and justice,” said Kat Phan, also with New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “There is a world in which true language justice exists, and we will not stop fighting until all New Jerseyans can dream and thrive in their own language, and live dignified and celebrated lives regardless of their background.”
NJAIJ, and all other member organizations, call upon Governor Murphy to sign both Data Disaggregation Bill S2415/A3092 and Language Access Bill S2459/A3837 into law and will keep fighting for the expansion and fair implementation of immigrant rights policies like those that passed earlier today.
NJAIJ is the state’s largest immigration coalition, bringing together over 50 member organizations to fight for policies that empower and protect immigrants. For more resources on how to support and uplift immigrant New Jerseyans, visit www.njimmigrantjustice.org.
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