Undocumented immigrants rally for pandemic relief

Over the past six months, Edison Hernandez and his wife both lost their jobs like many New Jerseyans.

The father of two says they were living off their savings to pay for rent, electricity, and food, but that money quickly ran out.

“We’re very sad about the situation,” he said in Spanish through a translator.

Rent payments for June, July, August and September are on his credit card. He says he can barely make the minimum payments and the debt is growing.

He’s paid his taxes since coming into the country 19 years ago. But unlike most families in New Jersey, Hernandez won’t get a dime back. He’s getting no assistance from the government because he is undocumented.

Immigrant advocates stood outside the State House chanting, “Murphy listen to us, we’re here.”

The organization behind the rally, Make the Road New Jersey, released a new report that shows more than 722,000 New Jerseyans share Hernandez’s story.

Of the 187 undocumented immigrants surveyed, 81% said they lost their jobs during the pandemic; 81.1% don’t know how they’ll pay next month’s rent; 85.3% don’t know how they’ll pay for food; and 77.3% don’t know how they’ll pay for medicine.

“Didn’t receive the stimulus payment, aren’t receiving the unemployment checks even though they’re paying into the unemployment system. Our initial report found out that over the last 10 years, undocumented immigrants have paid more than $1 billion into the unemployment fund,” said Nedia Morsy, lead organizer for Make the Road New Jersey.

Morsy explains many of the undocumented immigrants suffering financially during the pandemic are essential workers who have been on the front lines at grocery stores and hospitals, yet they’re getting no government assistance.

Her organization is calling on the state to take action.

“Offer immediate pandemic relief to all undocumented immigrant communities; the second, that we protect frontline workers to uphold the right to refuse for folks that are feeling unsafe at the workplace; and third, to cancel the rent,” she said.

She says that means all residents who couldn’t make rent payments during the last six months would have those payments waived.

Gov. Phil Murphy responded at Monday’s coronavirus press briefing.

“I have complete sympathy, but w’re in an extraordinarily challenging budget within the state and we’re doing everything we can to get that balanced over the next couple of weeks, and that’s about what we’ve got to get that done,” the governor said.

Murphy adding getting federal cash is also crucial to help.

Not only will Hernandez see no benefits, but his two kids won’t either even though they’re American. According to the report, 262,000 United States citizens are not receiving aid because of their parent or spouse’s undocumented status.

“It really affects us as a family. Our children are very confused by the situation. It has not been easy,” Hernandez said.

What happens in the future is unpredictable, but today he fighting for “alivio para todos,” or relief for everyone.