Undocumented day laborers in Princeton, NJ are organizing relief efforts and pressuring Gov. Phil Murphy to take action.
Across New York and New Jersey, there are hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrant workers. They’re performing essential tasks that often go unseen and in this crisis, they are left without a safety net, unable to receive relief checks from the government or to apply for aid from employers — though they pay billions of dollars each year in state and local taxes.
In Princeton, Unidad Latina en Acción NJ has offered critical support and an emergency relief fund for day laborers who are now out of work.
Salvador Conde is a member of Unidad and an undocumented worker who has lived in New Jersey for 15 years. He has been unemployed since March 21 when his restaurant job and work as a handyman evaporated.
He and others gather on a street corner each morning hoping someone will drive by in need of workers.
“We stand around six feet from each other and have direct instructions from the police that we cannot be close together,” Conde says. “Only two or three cars pass by each day looking for workers.”
When Conde’s job ended, he was unable to apply for aid. He has received some support from Unidad. But, “It’s not enough.”
Besides worrying about paying rent and sending money back to his family in Mexico, Conde is grieving. His father passed away in New York a few weeks ago.
“The worst part of it was we were not able to even get close to the body of my Dad,” he recalls of the funeral, though his father is not believed to have died of COVID-19. “We couldn’t even say ‘bye’ to my Dad.”
To send his father’s body back to Mexico will cost $20,000. Conde has borrowed some of that money.
Jairo Paloma, also a member of Unidad, is a native of Honduras. He has lived in New Jersey for 10 years and has been without work since April 4. Last month, his Aunt Fany died of COVID-19.
“What affects me the most is not being able to send money to my loved ones in my country,” Paloma told The Indypendent. “I have had to struggle with all of these emotions and responsibilities all at once. And, for that reason, I keep thinking, ‘It is not the same living with the pandemic when you are rich and have money as when you belong to the working class and, even worse, when we are undocumented.’”
Paloma wants New Jersey Gov. Murphy to take the lead in making sure the state provides economic relief to undocumented families who are being denied assistance despite paying taxes.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the weaknesses that exist in the health institutions and in the manner in which essential workers are treated,” he said.
Each year on May Day, Unidad Latina en Acción NJ has rallied in support of undocumented workers’ rights. This year, Jorge Torres, the group’s founder, says Unidad will not rally but will honor the day by distributing aid.
“This May Day, we are demanding to cancel rent payment,” says Torres. “We are demanding the state of New Jersey create a relief fund for undocumented workers and provide essential workers with protective equipment. We are demanding that all prisoners be released and prisons closed.
“We say, ‘Solo el pueblo salva al pueblo.’” It translates roughly to, “Only the people save the people.”
You can donate to Unidad Latina en Accion’s relief fund here.