A group of immigrants and their advocates blocked a section of the northbound New Jersey Turnpike Monday, demanding that Gov. Phil Murphy and lawmakers allocate an additional $989 million in state funds for undocumented workers who have not been eligible for other types of pandemic relief.
The convoy of two dozen cars gathered at the Grover Cleveland Service Area in Woodbridge in the 90-degree heat before drivers headed toward the highway honking horns, waving red flags and displaying written signs on their car windows, some that read “Murphy excludes migrants.”
“We are sick and tired of calling for Governor Murphy that we need more for essential and excluded workers and we have been doing this for a year and nobody listens to us,” said Jorge Torres, regional coordinator for the National Day Laborers Organizing Network. “We have to take measures; sometimes this is the only way that they listen to us.”
The “Essential and Excluded’’ caravan was organized by “Y Nosotros Que,’’ a coalition of several immigrant advocacy organizations from around the state that includes Casa Freehold, Cosecha and Unidad Latina en Acccion NJ. The Spanish words “Y Nosotros Que’’ translate into “What About Us?”
Monday’s action comes after a year of rallies, protests, hunger strikes and a few banner drops organized by different groups throughout the state to bring attention to the plight of undocumented immigrants during the pandemic, some who have lost their jobs and others who are essential workers and risked getting the coronavirus while still not qualifying for federal stimulus money or unemployment benefits.
Murphy ‘just doesn’t want to listen’
“Our governor has not given us importance … he just doesn’t want to listen,” said Reynalda Cruz of New Brunswick, a member of New Labor who has a work permit but works with undocumented immigrants. “New Jersey is growing because of the labor of undocumented immigrants.”
Murphy’s office in May announced that it would set aside $40 million in federal CARES ACT funds to help New Jerseyans who suffered short periods of unemployment as well as undocumented immigrants. But advocates immediately criticized the move as coming too late, and not enough to cover the needs of the approximately 475,000 undocumented immigrants and their families who reside in the state.
Fueling their anger last week was the $46.4 billion budget drafted by Democratic lawmakers and then sent to Murphy that does not include any additional funds specifically for stimulus payments to undocumented immigrants. The activists point to the $10.1 billion budget surplus the state amassed in recent months, which will be spent during the 2022 fiscal year under the new spending bill.
Richard McGrath, a spokesman for Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), declined comment on the protesters demands.
Alyana Alfaro, spokeswoman for the governor’s office, declined comment on allotting additional funds for excluded workers. She said the $40 million set aside from the CARES Act will be administered by the Department of Human Services, and the office will begin accepting applications in the fall. The state aims to disburse the funds shortly after, she added.
Struggling to pay for basics
That is too late for some undocumented immigrants who have said they continue to struggle to pay their rent and put food on the table.
“I’m nervous but I feel every sacrifice is worth it if you are looking to make changes,” said Trissy of Bridgewater, who planned to ride as a passenger in one of the cars.
Around 5:35 p.m. the protesters wearing red T-shirts got out of their cars and stopped traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike as cars honked their horns. They chanted “$40 million is not enough,” as they held large signs that read “We the workers demand $1 billion for the Excluded Workers Fund.” Advocates said they stayed on the roadway for 10 to 12 minutes.
A spokesman for the New Jersey State Police said troopers responded to a report of vehicles obstructing traffic on the turnpike’s northbound inner roadway in the area of milepost 97. When troopers arrived, the vehicles had already departed the scene and traffic was moving. There was no State Police interaction with the motorists.
Haydi Torres, a community organizer for Cosecha, said her organization dropped a banner in Newark last Thursday calling on the governor not to leave essential workers behind. She said the group also participated in a protest outside the governor’s mansion earlier this month and will continue to be vocal about the needs of the undocumented community.
“This is the moment for us to push for more and get more visibility not only to voters but also within the community,” she said.