Undocumented workers push for state stimulus

Thousands of New Jersey’s immigrant workers did not get a penny from the federal CARES Act.

Rigoberto Mejia is documented, but filing taxes jointly with his undocumented wife disqualified them and their two U.S. citizen children from getting federal stimulus money.

Not only has the pandemic kept both parents out of work, but all four family members caught the coronavirus as well. They’ve since recovered. The family’s struggling, but getting by thanks to the charity of Wind of the Spirit and others and Mejia’s $600 a week unemployment insurance checks.

Speaking through a translator, he said they want more and say they’ve earned it.

“We are human beings just like everyone else and we are suffering the same medical issues that everyone else is suffering except we also have not received any kind of help from a system that we’ve justly been paying into. So what we want from the state of New Jersey is full and complete help for our community,” said Kevin Escobar, Wind of the Spirit advocacy assistant.

Sen. Teresa Ruiz introduced a bill in mid-May to give one-time $1,000 payments to undocumented workers. In all, $35 million.

“The bill is not what I would love to see done, but it is a start,” Ruiz said. “When the pandemic hit everybody acted like undocumented families did not exist.”

New Jersey Policy Perspective says undocumented workers have contributed more than $1 billion over 10 years to the state’s unemployment fund. Immigrate advocates say that should count for something.

“The state, localities are all trying to figure out how to balance their budgets. But the way that we see this is that we will not recover fully as a state unless we include everyone who works in this state, who contributes to our communities,” said Katy Sastre, outreach coordinator for the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.

Republican Sen. Mike Doherty opposes the bill as the state ponders drastic budget cuts.

“Here’s a governor who says he’s going to borrow $14 billion to cover budget gaps and he’s proposing to hand out $35 million to undocumented workers, people that are in New Jersey illegally,” he said.

Ruiz says her bill has 15 co-sponsors and she’s looking for more to help a population that represents nearly 8% of New Jersey’s workforce.