Things That Matter

New Jersey’s Governor Says He’ll Sign Bill Allowing Undocumented Residents Access To Drivers Licenses

Undocumented migrants in the United States and other Global North countries make a significant contribution to the economy but they often are left out of key economic areas and industries. Among the most basic things that a worker needs to perform certain jobs is a drivers license. Without it job prospects in most industries are pretty limited. Distances in the United States, particularly in the middle of the country and states such as New Jersey tend to be vast and commuting by public transport is not always the best option, or even feasible. Working parents and other people caring for a family member (such as an ageing mother or father, or someone with a disability) often need to pack a lot of activities in a day, and using a car is the only possible way for them to be able to make ends meet. 

So a very possible change in New Jersey law would make a world of difference for undocumented migrants and their families. 

So yes, New Jersey might start providing drivers licenses to undocumented migrants, and this is great and a welcome development towards economic assimilation.

Credit: New Jersey Advanced Media

The New Jersey State Assembly Judiciary Committee held a hearing Monday at the Statehouse in Trenton to discuss the possibility of pro providing undocumented migrants with drivers licenses. As you can imagine, the issue has been quickly politicized and the Latino community has been lobbying for a positive outcome.

This is of course a highly contentious issue in a state that has swung from blue to red and blue again, and where factory workers, many of which are reticent to migration, are an important segment of the electorate. As explained by Assemblywoman Anette Quijano, D-Union” “We know this legislation will change thousands of lives in the Garden State, a state with both urban, suburban and rural communities that require residents to drive a car to get from point A to point B.”

Another key benefit of this bill is that it will make roads safer, as currently there are people driving without a license and without having passed a test that ensures that rules and sings are understood by everyone on the road. More than 30 people gave their testimony, and as reported by NJ.COM they “shared stories of the fear they face when seeing a cop in the rearview mirror, whether they are completing a mundane task like grocery shopping or attending a crucial doctors appointment. And how their paychecks go to fighting traffic tickets and court fees”. 

Chants of “Si, se puede!” and “Licensias si, promesas no!” were heard as the hearing was being held.

Credit: Trasport Topics

Advocates for the bill were as young as 9-years-old. David Cuautle, a young boy whose parents cannot drive him, spoke truth in his testimony: “I’m sick and tired of you guys making these promises for at least 18 years. Are you going to wait until I am 18 ? It’s been a long time. And you think this is rough? This is rough for everybody.”

The exclusion of migrants from key activities has a huge effect on their daily lives and also limits the prospects of their families for assimilation and for socioeconomic advancement. And David got a response that gives hope to those hoping that the bill will be passed: “David, you are absolutely right. And David, I’m sick and tired as well of promises not being kept.” These words were said by state Assemblywoman Carol Murphy, D-Burlington, a co-sponsor of the measure.

Opponents to the bill fear that having a license will allow undocumented migrants to vote (which fuels Trump’s conspiracy theory of “millions” of votes having been cast by undocumented migrants). They also claim that this measure could increase human trafficking, which also resonates with racial stereotypes pushed by conservatives. 

The measure is supported by the New Jersey governor, Democrat Phil Murphy.

Credit: MADD.org

The bill needs to go through three hurdles before coming into effect: the State Assembly, the State Senate and finally get signed by the governor, who has said that he will definitely sign it if it comes to him and he has the last word. But just how many people would be affected positively by the bill? About half a million, a huge number by all standards.

As NJ.COM reports: “There are more than 466,000 undocumented immigrants of driving age in New Jersey, according to a 2018 study by left-leaning think tank NJ Policy Perspective”. That is whole lot of people. The bill would also generate jobs and revenue for the roads and transport authorities. The bill has been on the cards for years, but hasn’t advanced this far before. There is hope but in policy everything can change in a minute. 

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2020 Has Been A Tragic Year As A Record Number Of Migrants Die In ICE Custody

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2020 Has Been A Tragic Year As A Record Number Of Migrants Die In ICE Custody

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The news out of 2020 continues to devastate and it’s getting harder and harder to be shocked by just how horrible things are looking. However, the level of neglect inside ICE detention centers is so shocking that it’s leading to a record number of deaths. No matter what year it is, that is shocking.

It’s been 14 years, during the presidency of George Bush, since ICE detention centers have recorded the level of deaths that they’re recording this year. Despite warnings from health and immigration experts, ICE has largely refused to release immigrants from overcrowded cells despite an ongoing and out of control global health pandemic. This blatant disregard for life has had a huge impact as at least 18 people have died while in ICE detention centers so far this fiscal year.

ICE is responsible for the well-being of individuals in its custody and has broad discretion to release people for humanitarian reasons. The government should test everyone in its custody for COVID-19 and increase releases to prevent further deaths.

Three recent deaths in ICE detention centers bring 2020’s total to the second highest since 2006.

The death toll for immigrants in ICE custody reached the highest level since 2006 after three more people died this week.

Last week, it was reported that two men died while in ICE detention on August 5. One of the men who died last week was James Thomas Hill, a 72-year-old Canadian citizen who tested positive for COVID-19 about a month before his death. He was detained for three months at Farmville Detention Center in Virginia, despite being high-risk due to his age.

A 51-year-old man from Taiwan, Kuan Hui Lee, also died on August 5. Lee had been detained at Krome Detention Center in Florida for 7 months because he had overstayed a visa 16 years ago. While further details of his medical condition and death have not been reported, ICE has a long history of medical neglect of people in its custody with serious health conditions.

Then on August 11, Buzzfeed News reported that a 70-year-old Costa Rican man died in ICE custody at a Georgia Hospital on August 10, 2020, after testing positive for COVID-19. The man had been detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. According to AJC.com, the detainee suffered from diabetes and hypertension and had been hospitalized since August 4, 2020. ICE officials confirmed the death to BuzzFeed News, but have not released any additional details yet.

These tragedies increased the total deaths in ICE custody this fiscal year to 18, the highest number since 2006. Many—if not all—of the deaths that occur in ICE custody are avoidable.

“Many of these deaths were avoidable, unnecessary, and a direct result of the Trump administration’s refusal to take basic steps to protect the health and safety of detainees,” John Sandweg, a former ICE director during the Obama administration, told BuzzFeed News.

Many deaths have been attributed to Covid-19 but that’s not the complete picture.

Coronavirus has swept through ICE detention centers like wildfire and this has had a major impact on the health and welfare of detainees, the community, and even ICE employees.

So far this year, more than twice as many people have died in ICE custody over last year. And, unfortunately, there are at least 1,065 active Covid-19 cases in ICE detention centers, meaning more people are likely to get sick and die before the year ends.

The number of deaths is especially alarming considering the average number of people detained has been significantly lower this year than in recent years.

Farmville, an ICE detention center in Virgina, has the largest COVID-19 outbreak in immigration detention. As of August 6, over 97% of people held in this ICE facility had contracted COVID-19. The outbreak began as a super-spreader event caused by a transfer of 74 people from Florida and Arizona.

Advocates have consistently criticized ICE for failing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the people it detains.

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The Trump Administration Raised Fees For Immigration Cases Including For Refugees

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The Trump Administration Raised Fees For Immigration Cases Including For Refugees

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In its continuing campaign against immigrants and refugees, the Trump administration has increased the costs of immigration proceedings – in some instances by more than 80%. These new fees could make the cost of seeking asylum protection in the U.S. or becoming a citizen out of reach for tens of thousands of immigrants.

The new fees are seen as little more than an additional tool used by the administration to further limit immigration to the U.S. and make life more difficult for those seeking to call the U.S. homes.

The Trump administration announced major changes to the fees charged for immigration proceedings.

On Friday, the Trump administration announced it would dramatically increase the fees for U.S. immigration services on everything from refugee asylum requests to naturalization services. The new fee structure, released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is expected to take effect on October 2.

The new fees are seen as little more than an additional tool used by the administration to further limit immigration to the U.S. and make life more difficult for those seeking to call the U.S. homes. It will also have an outsized impact on business that hire foreign workers.

The agency, which has closed offices and suspended most services during the pandemic, has said it faces a significant revenue shortfall that could trigger furloughs. Earlier this year, the agency requested $1.2 billion in emergency funds from Congress.

The U.S. will now be one of just a few countries that actually charge refugees to file asylum requests.

Credit: Gregory Bull / Getty Images

With the new fee charged to refugees and asylum seekers, the U.S. will become one of just four countries that actually charge for this application. The new fee for asylum is a blatant attack on the most vulnerable among us and is another way for the administration to target and restrict protections for those fleeing their home countries.

The $50 application fee for asylum applications now puts the U.S. in the same ranks as Iran, Fiji, and Australia. The new rule would also raise the cost for an asylum applicant to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD) from the current zero to $490, one of many policy changes to discourage potential asylum applicants. DHS commented, “DHS does not believe that the EAD fee is unduly burdensome for asylum seekers.”

However, one asylum officer who spoke with BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity said the fee was discouraging.

“The larger problem is that humanitarian applications by their nature should be free,” the officer said. “The idea of charging people who are fleeing — and not helping if they don’t pay up — is disgusting.”

Another asylum officer said it will cost the agency more to collect the fee than $50, “which doesn’t come close to covering the cost of adjudicating an asylum application.”

Other fees – from green card replacements to citizenship applications – will also be going up.

The new fee changes impact several categories of services offered by USCIS that will impact our community. Two of the most common types of visas issued by the agency (L and H-1B visas) will increase by 75% and 21% respectively.

The L visa – which is used for short term work in the U.S. – will increase from $460 to $805. The fee for an H-1B petition (which is used by employers to hire highly-skilled workers) will rise from $460 to $555.

For season workers in the U.S., of which there are hundreds of thousands, their fees will also increase by almost 50%. The current fee for these visas is $460 but the H-2A (season agricultural) will rise to $850 and the H-2B (seasonal non-agricultural) will rise to $715.

USCIS would increase the cost of the application (N-400) to become a U.S. citizen by more than 80%, rising from $640 to $1,160 (for online filings, although a separate $85 biometrics fee would be eliminated). 

The new increased fees come as the agency faces a financial crisis that many say are of its own making.

Many are concerned about the timing of these fee increases because USCIS is in the midst of historic mismanagement, that has face the agency from a substantial surplus to a deficit so severe USCIS has requested a $1.2 billion bailout from Congress.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, chair of the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, held a July 29, 2020, oversight hearing that helped explain how the Trump administration caused the financial problems at USCIS through its policy choices on immigration.

“Under the Trump Administration, USCIS has issued a flurry of policies that make its case adjudications more complicated, which reduces the agency’s efficiency and requires more staff to complete fewer cases,” testified Doug Rand, a founder of Boundless Immigration and a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists. “There are dozens if not hundreds of such policies.” 

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