In Newark Tuesday morning, down the street from the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice, the New Jersey Coalition of Latino Pastors and Ministers gathered for an event to endorse Governor Phil Murphy and Lt. Governor Sheila Oliver. The NJCLPM is an organization which includes over 420 spiritual leaders across the garden state.
NJCLPM President Rev. Raul Ruiz said, “Over the last four years and under very difficult times due to this unprecedented pandemic, New Jersey has led the way on many fronts. This progress could not have been possible if not for the efforts of the Governor Phil Murphy and Lt. Sheila Oliver’s administration. Together they have led an agenda rooted in compassion, fairness and inclusiveness, building opportunities for all New Jersey residents to be part of a bright future.”
“Reelecting Gov. Murphy and Lt. Gov. Oliver means a continued delivery on policies to keep the state moving forward, stronger and fairer,” said Rev. Bolivar Flores Vice President of the NJCLPM. “The successes include: raising the minimum wage, ensuring access to affordable housing, ensuring equal pay for equal work, criminal justice reform, reducing the cost of health care, and having millionaires pay their fair share in taxes.”
During the event, the campaign and Coalition touted the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program, rental assistance, utility assistance, eviction moratorium, and a host of other actions designed to alleviate the suffering of New Jersey residents during the worst public health crisis since the Spanish Flu a century earlier.
Governor Murphy said he was honored “to have earned the endorsement of the New Jersey Coalition of Latino Pastors and Ministers, and share their deep passion for empowering New Jersey’s Latino families and communities to ensure they can live up to their fullest potential.”
Lt. Governor Oliver said that she and Governor Murphy “are thrilled to receive the endorsement of the NJCLPM, who’ve been a leading voice for our Latino brothers and sisters across New Jersey. Through our partnership and shared commitment, we’ll continue our work to ensure our state is open and accessible to all, and provide opportunities for all our families to live and thrive in the place they call home.”
Outside of the Legal Center where the event was being held, a group of Latino protesters were holding up signs in English and Spanish calling on Murphy to allocate funds for workers who have yet to receive aid from the state. Among those were members of Cosecha NJ, whose website describes the organization as “a nonviolent movement fighting for permanent protection, dignity, and respect for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.” The other organization represented was the Unidad Latina en Acción NJ (ULA) which describes itself as “a grassroots migrant justice organization that works under the mission of educating, empowering and organizing migrant communities to defend and protect our human and civil rights.”
“We are here this morning reminding Governor Murphy that there are still half a million working families who have not received any relief,” said Carlos Castenetta. “He calls himself progressive, but there’s nothing progressive about leaving our half a million families for any aid or recovery package. When he says New Jersey recovers for all, we mean for all, not some. There are a group of essential workers who have not been included in any relief package so far. It has been more than a year and a half since the pandemic started. We have been struggling to pay our debts and try to keep up with them. As families know, it’s not easy. We are not asking for anything that is not ours. All we are asking for is economic justice, fairness, and equity.”
An activist named Heidi representing Cosecha said, “This is an event that was open to people of different congregations and pastors in New Jersey. At the beginning of the event we heard pastors talking about their support they’ve been giving to their communities, but my question is, if they really standing with the immigrant community, why haven’t they challenged the governor to include a billion dollars for student workers fund? There’s money in New Jersey, there’s no excuse.”
She said that their members were part of mutual aid groups during the pandemic, providing community members with information about COVID testing, rental assistance, and other services. “Essential workers, people in construction, people who work in restaurants, they’re not catching up on all of the money they owe for past due rent. It’s heartbreaking to see people evicted and dying from this virus they contracted at the workplace. How is it possible that they stand with the community but they’re not pushing Governor Murphy to put a billion dollars into the student workers fund? It’s a hypocrisy.” She said that her pastor was part of the conference and urged faith leaders to pressure the governor to do more for those left behind.
“What has Murphy done for the immigrant community? Where is his progressive agenda? The only thing they did was the drivers licenses and that was a long struggle for us to even pass that bill and support immigrant workers,” she said. “Just being there in that space, I was upset to see the hypocrisy, and how they say they’re for the community. So many of our workers are being exploited and worry about how much they owe and worry for their families going back to work.”
According to Heidi, when she tried to speak out at the event, the police removed them and took one of their cell phones. An activist named Andre said “after some negotiating” the police returned his cell phone. “I think it is telling that when Heidi tried to ask these questions of the governor, instead of answering the questions or engaging in a dialog, they summoned the police on an immigrant woman asking these questions. There was clearly no interest in actual dialog with community members.”
“Governor Murphy was going on and on about how New Jersey has all these unspent federal funds and in an unprecedented great financial situation,” Andre continued. “For the past year unemployed people who are citizens and are able to access the pandemic unemployment have been getting $500 or more, while undocumented immigrants, many who work in essential industries, have been getting nothing. He has been promising to provide some symbolic degree of funding for undocumented workers, but given the financial state of New Jersey he can and needs to do much better. When people try to engage in dialog to ensure he does get undocumented workers what they deserve, his campaign summoned the police and kicked them out.”
Heidi said that her message to those attending was simple. “If you’re for the community, you should be out there pushing Murphy if you’re close to him. If Murphy is going to listen to them, then tell him and the legislature that undocumented workers need a billion dollars to be allocated.”