'It's been the most difficult year': Immigrant women march for state, federal benefits
Domestic workers, warehouse employees and housekeepers were among the immigrant women and their allies who gathered in Passaic on Sunday to demand that the state and federal government stop excluding them from financial assistance during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused many of them to lose their jobs.
The women, many without legal status, have not received federal stimulus checks and are not eligible for unemployment benefits because of their immigration status. Marchers called for Gov. Phil Murphy and New Jersey lawmakers to create a fund to provide $600 weekly unemployment benefits to workers who have lost their jobs and to provide "stimulus-like" payments.
"We are here on the anniversary of the pandemic, a year of suffering, a year of risk, a year of profound pain. It's been the most difficult year for many of our families,'' said Erika Martinez, of Make the Road New Jersey, who was translating for Margarita Rodriguez of Passaic. "Since the beginning of the pandemic, the federal and state government has failed us."
The "Excluded Women's March'' marked the first anniversary of the start of pandemic quarantines and shutdowns across the country, which led many of the women to lose their jobs or see their hours reduced. It also was held to recognize Women's History Month, celebrated every year in March.
Critics of such payments have said undocumented immigrants are already getting benefits and services for the taxes they pay through free public education, as well as fire and police protection.
During the event, several women told their stories of struggles to provide food for their children and to pay rent and other bills. They said that before the pandemic and before they lost their jobs, they also provided for family members in their homelands.
"We all need economic relief,'' Gloria Guerrero of Edison said in Spanish.
On Saturday, the United States Senate passed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that would give stimulus checks to those with Social Security numbers, which would include undocumented immigrants' spouses who have citizenship or legal residency, and their citizen children. The package must still be approved by the House of Representatives and signed by President Joe Biden.
Maria Sandoval of Passaic, mother of two U.S. citizen children, said that if she were to receive funds from the federal government from the coronavirus relief package, it would help her pay her $1,200 rent, which she has fallen behind on for two months.
"It would be so much help,'' she said.
State bill faces hurdles
Last year, state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union, were among Democratic lawmakers who introduced a bill that would set aside $35 million for one-time payments to undocumented immigrants who file state and federal income taxes. The payments would include $1,000 for a family with dependent children, $700 for married couples without children and $500 for a single filer.
But even though the bill has received support from Democrats and a few Republicans, finding funds for the bill is an obstacle in New Jersey, where lawmakers had to approve borrowing up to $9.9 billion last year to help balance the state budget.
A spokesman for Murphy's office declined to comment on the bill on Friday.
On Sunday, after listening to speeches at Pulaski Park, the participants marched along Third Street for several blocks, chanting and carrying signs that read "Real People and Real Relief" and "Relief for All Now."
Among the marchers was Cecilia Landero of Parsippany, who was accompanied by one of her sons. She said she lost her job as a waitress at a restaurant nearly a year ago, and now provides for her four children by working odd jobs. She said she sometimes cleans houses and sells Mexican food from her home. She said she has used most of her savings to pay for her $1,350 monthly rent.
"As immigrants, we have fought for this country to excel and move forward, and I think we deserve some rights,'' said Landero, who immigrated from Mexico nearly 16 years ago, when she was 13. "We are not asking what is not just, we just want a little bit of benefit for what we have given to this country."
The event was organized by several immigrant rights organizations, including Make the Road New Jersey, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Latino Action Network, the Laundryworkers Center, New Labor, the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, New Jersey Citizen Action, Wind of the Spirit, Unidad Latina en Accion and the New Jersey Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Monsy Alvarado is the immigration reporter for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news about one of the hottest issues in our state and country, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.