Op-Ed: Urging NJ lawmakers to take action ‘to ensure mixed-status families like mine can survive’

‘Though I was born here and our kids were too ... the federal government left us behind and, so far, New Jersey has done nothing to remedy this’
Credit: Courtesy of Cristianne A. Jordan
Cristianne A. Jordan and her family

When the pandemic first started, I had just become the mother of newborn twins. This was supposed to be an exciting time for me, seeing my twins grow, watching them take their first steps and hearing them say their first words. I am a mother of three, the oldest is 6 years old, his name is Mathew.

In March as the shutdown began, I thought my family would be OK, but the reality was far from that. My husband is an immigrant, and this means that when he lost his job as New York City shut down, he didn’t receive unemployment benefits. Even though I was born here and our kids were too, we didn’t receive the stimulus check either, because the Trump administration decided to exclude family members of undocumented immigrants from the stimulus. Every year we pay taxes. But the federal government left us behind and, so far, New Jersey has done nothing to remedy this.

My twins needed formula and needed diapers; all my children needed food, but when New York shut down, my husband was without work for three months. For three months we spent sleepless nights wondering where our next meal would come from; if we would be evicted as the rent started to pile up, or whether we could pay the electricity bill, which kept getting higher.

We are still worried. I am worried about keeping our home, but I am also worried about my husband. Now that New York City has opened up again, he takes public transportation from Woodbridge to New York to get to work. He risks the possibility of getting COVID-19 every day just to make sure our family is taken care of. We are still not caught up with the bills and the rent; we are trying our best but there is not enough money to go around. Just like everyone, we expected this to be temporary, but it has now been eight months and we are in the middle of the second wave. My family cannot survive without stimulus relief and unemployment benefits. If my husband loses his job again, I don’t know what we will do.

This holiday season will be the hardest my family has ever experienced. As Christmas approaches, my heart aches even more. It aches for my children who will experience Christmas without any presents. My 6-year-old son has spent the past month creating his Christmas list, watching all of the toy commercials and hoping Santa Claus brings him new dinosaur toys. I still haven’t found the words to tell him that Santa Claus might not be stopping by this year, not because he was “naughty” but because we can’t afford gifts.

Like other families, we have decided not to get together with our extended family for the holidays. My mother and grandmother won’t be able to travel this year, because safety for our family is our top priority. Although not seeing my family is difficult, not having enough money to put together a Christmas dinner is even harder. We are used to making roasted pork, mashed potatoes, rice, lasagna, flan and more. But that would mean spending all the money we have to cover our basic needs on one meal. That’s simply something we can’t do.

There is legislation sitting in Trenton that is a first step toward our community’s survival. The Trump administration decided to leave immigrants and their family members behind from aid, tossing aside our humanity. But our state Legislature can take action to ensure mixed-status families like mine can survive. It is unjust and unfair that tax-paying immigrants and their spouses and kids have been left behind. I’m still hopeful the new year will bring new blessings.