New Jersey Alliance For Immigrant Justice Welcomes New Director
After a 9-month search, Alliance leadership selects Amy Torres to lead the organization’s immigrants’ rights priorities and statewide movement-building work
Newark, NJ – Wednesday, December 23rd, 2020 – The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice announced Amy Torres as the new Director of the statewide coalition beginning in January 2021. The Alliance works to achieve local and state policies that welcome immigrants to become rooted in New Jersey. As the incoming director, Torres will lead a coalition of over 42 member organizations and three Alliance staff members to coordinate the policy and organizational priorities.
Torres brings seven years of immigrants’ rights policy advocacy and leadership experience, most recently as the Policy and Advocacy Director at the Chinese-American Planning Council (CPC) in New York City. They also bring strong experience in coalition-building and advocacy in low-income, immigrant, and Asian and Pacific American communities, and in grassroots organizing in Hudson County. Torres’s work ethos is informed by their experience as a second-generation Filipinx immigrant tracing their roots from the Philippines to New Jersey.
“I am excited to join the NJAIJ whose advocacy is at the forefront of the immigrant justice fight in New Jersey. Firmly rooted in my identity and experience is the belief that human rights and liberties should not be subject to change because of something as arbitrary as birthplace, borders, or paperwork. Public policy must look to undo deeply entrenched harms and restore dignity to those most marginalized by existing systems of power. I look forward to working alongside the fierce champions at the Alliance who are leading the way for immigrants’ rights, justice, and belonging,” said Amy Torres, incoming Director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.
In March 2020, Maneesha Kelker joined the Alliance as the Interim Director and the Alliance formed its search committee for the next director. Simultaneously, New Jersey responded to the global pandemic with an emergency statewide stay at home order. The resulting first wave of Covid19 cases and massive job losses for undocumented immigrant workers and families were particularly devasting. Under Kelkar’s leadership, the Alliance pivoted to address the urgent need for income relief for immigrants left out of state pandemic relief efforts, and the immediate need to release immigrants in detention facilities in order to diminish the risk of Covid19 outbreaks.
“I feel deeply honored to have had the opportunity to shepherd NJAIJ during its period of transition. Despite an unprecedented pandemic that changed the world as we know it, we continued to forge ahead, working alongside our members to fight for the rights of all immigrants. I am grateful to all the passionate activists and advocates I have met this year, including our dedicated staff – they have taught me what commitment means. I wish the Alliance the best in its unwavering determination to fight for dignity and respect for all immigrants in New Jersey,” said Maneesha Kelkar, Interim Director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.
The Alliance was formed in 2014 with a handful of founding member organizations and one program coordinator. Since then, the organization has grown into a powerful force in achieving immigrants’ rights policies across the state.
In the six years since its founding, the Alliance achieved significant policy wins for immigrants, previously deemed too politically unviable for New Jersey. These achievements include municipal ID programs in municipalities across the state; the 2018 Attorney General’s “Immigrant Trust Directive” which limits collaboration between local and state law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement; and the passage of the “Driver’s Licenses For All” legislation into law in 2019, which expands eligibility to standard driver’s licenses for nearly half-a-million undocumented immigrant residents in New Jersey.
Guided by immigrant-led principles and democratic decision-making processes, the Alliance’s work is first informed by New Jerseyans most directly impacted by immigration policies, and then by those who work most closely with immigrants as advocates, community organizers, and community leaders.
On the horizon for the Alliance remains the achievement of the implementation of the driver’s licenses for all law, and the passage of fair and welcoming state policies legislation that would allow immigrants to live without fear of immigration enforcement in New Jersey. Just this week, the Alliance worked with our partners to introduce legislation to ban any new, renewed, or expansion of immigration detention agreements in New Jersey. In 2021 and beyond, the Alliance will push to achieve this legislation as well as other policies to make New Jersey a more fair and welcoming place for all immigrants regardless of their status.
Lastly, the New Jersey Alliance For Immigrant Justice will continue to support new grassroots community organizations working in immigrant communities. In particular, uplifting immigrant communities which are often invisibilized within New Jersey’s immigrants’ rights advocacy such as Arab, Black, African, Asian, South Asian, Filipinx, and migrant agricultural workers. To this end, this year the Alliance welcomed three new members including Migrante NJ, Palestinian American Cultural Center, and CATA – The Farmworkers Support Committee.
The Alliance membership includes: 1199 SEIU, 32BJ SEIU, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, American Friends Service Committee, Beacon – Unitarian Universalist Church in Summit, Faith in New Jersey, The Latin American Legal Defense & Education Fund, Inc., Latino Action Network, Make the Road New Jersey, New Jersey Communities United, New Labor, New Jersey Policy Perspective, New Jersey Working Families, Wind of the Spirit- Immigrant Resource Center, Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey, Bangladeshi American Women’s Development Initiative, Casa Freehold, CATA – The Farmworkers Support Committee, Catholic Charities Diocese of Metuchen, Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton, Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War, Centro Comunitario CEUS, Central Unitarian Church – Social Justice Committee, Community of Friends in Action, El Centro Hispanoamericano, Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County, First Friends NJ & NY, Haiti Solidarity Network of the North East, Hispanic Family Center of Southern New Jersey, Ironbound Community Corporation, Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), National Association of Social Workers – New Jersey Chapter, New Jersey Citizen Action, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Northern New Jersey Sanctuary Coalition, Migrante -New Jersey, OASIS, Palestinian American Community Center, Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, Inc., The Social Responsibilities Council of The Unitarian Society of Ridgewood, Unitarian Universalist FaithAction NJ, and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton.