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To put immigrant and working-class people of color on track to thrive and to rebuild a stronger Garden State where everyone can put down roots and succeed, Make the Road New Jersey sets forth the following platform of local, state, and federal initiatives. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our state and country, and nowhere has the loss of life and economic collapse been felt more acutely than with working-class and poor people of color and immigrants. The pandemic caps off a decade of worsening economic inequality nationwide and at home in New Jersey. Even before the pandemic, Black and Latinx New Jerseyans were three times more likely to live in poverty than their white neighbors and about half as likely to own a home. In New Jersey before the pandemic, white families had the highest median net worth in the country -- $352,000, while New Jersey’s Black and Latinx families had a median net worth of $6,100 and $7,300 respectively. During the pandemic, Black and Latinx New Jerseyans’ hospitalization and mortality rates are twice as high as their white counterparts, and they have had the highest job loss. Our state has sheltered in place on the backs of essential workers, who have completed critical work under precarious and unsafe working conditions and substandard wages. Immigrant New Jerseyans that are out of status and their families have yet to receive a penny in unemployment or stimulus aid. At the same time, the state’s ten billionaires’ net worth increased a staggering $1.77 billion during the first 5 months of the pandemic and many of the states’ largest corporations are thriving. As the state recovers, bold and transformative measures are necessary to prevent the worst racial and economic inequality in a century.
At the same time, New Jersey Black and Latinx residents have been subject to attacks from local police and federal law enforcement leading to family separation, loss of life and liberty, and deep mistrust in government. New Jersey’s nearly one million non-citizens and their family members have been threatened with raids, detention and permanent family separation over the past four years, causing deep fear and permanent damage to our communities. According to data from the Office of Civil Rights, Black youth are more likely than white classmates to be referred to the criminal justice system during the school day by school safety officers. As the federal government shifts to repair our broken immigration system, there is an opportunity to repair the harm of the past four plus years and build a system that prioritizes family unity over separation and provides a pathway to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants. At home in New Jersey, we can end detention, invest in access to counsel, and stop the school to prison pipeline by diverting funds from school-based police to student supportive services.
Governor Phil Murphy’s first term brought about seismic change in how our state regards immigrants, people of color and workers. Under the Murphy administration, New Jersey has implemented at least seven pro-immigrant policies, including expanding access to drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, creating the state’s first – and nation’s second - publicly funded legal representation program for immigrant detainees, severely limiting the relationship between ICE and local law enforcement, expanding financial aid and occupational licenses to Dreamers and undocumented immigrants, divesting from private detention centers and establishing an Office of New Americans. Workers now can count on basic labor standards that were sorely lacking for generations: paid sick days, graduated increase to $15 minimum wage, the first in the nation guaranteed severance pay, the strongest anti-wage theft laws in the country and an enforceable set of workplace safety protections for workers during the pandemic. New Jersey has also expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit for working families while increasing taxation on millionaires and corporations.
Still, this progress towards building a state where everyone can thrive will be obliterated by the sharp racial and economic inequities exacerbated by the pandemic unless the Garden State takes significant action now. Similarly, our federal government must take swift action to reverse the Trump administration’s evisceration of worker protections and immigrant rights.
In response, we propose the following federal, state, and local policy solutions to improve the lives of millions of New Jerseyans and put our state on a pathway to equity, recovery, and justice. These recommendations are based on extensive discussions, focus groups and participatory meetings with immigrant and working-class adult and youth members of Make the Road New Jersey. They represent the collective vision of our membership and a pathway forward for New Jersey.