More than 100 educators throughout New Jersey sent a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) and state government leaders last Tuesday urging them to provide economic relief to undocumented immigrants in the state, especially in consideration of students with undocumented parents.
Several Rutgers educators who signed the letter discussed their reasons for signing it and the effects of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on undocumented immigrants and students in these families.
New Jersey has approximately 475,000 undocumented immigrants as of 2016. They do not have access to federal economic relief such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and unemployment or pandemic insurance due to their undocumented status, said Ana Pairet, an associate professor in the Department of French.
“It is essential to allocate funds for those left behind by the CARES (Act), and other forms of emergency assistance,” she said. “Not doing so would be giving up on helping the most vulnerable.”
The letter calls for the inclusion of undocumented and mixed-status families in state COVID-19 relief programs. Undocumented immigrants pay approximately $1 billion in federal taxes annually and approximately $600 million in state and local taxes, according to the letter.
Randi Mandelbaum, distinguished clinical professor at the Rutgers Law School in Newark and founding director of the Child Advocacy Clinic, said she has seen firsthand the effects of the pandemic on undocumented immigrant families through clients of the clinic. Many of those clients cannot afford basic necessities due to being unemployed and ineligible for state economic relief, she said.
“My hope is that the state can do a little to help,” Mandelbaum said. “New Jersey has a very high population of immigrants, which … I think we should be proud of and embrace. But we also need to help.”
Amanda Potter, the Zimmerli Art Museum’s curator of education and interpretation, said it is difficult for students to succeed academically when their families are facing hunger, eviction or other obstacles to basic needs.
“New Jersey has made efforts in the past to address the humanitarian failings of our national immigration system, and I hope that they will do the same here,” she said. “Children in our communities are at risk, and no one should be excluded from access to desperately needed help.”
The negative effects of dealing with undocumented status on children’s mental health and academic performance have been well-documented, said Marina Feldman, an instructor and doctoral student at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education. She said undocumented parents struggle to support their children through remote instruction, leading teachers to believe the parents are not interested in their children’s education.
Many children in undocumented families also lack access to reliable technology, stable internet connection and quiet study locations, according to the letter. These children may be learning the English language, which creates an additional barrier to online learning for them, Feldman said.
Many communication organizations have been supporting undocumented immigrants with their basic needs, including members of the Coalition to Defend Lincoln Annex School, she said.
“But keeping people alive and safe cannot be and should not be the role of community organizations and other concerned people,” Feldman said. “We have a government for a number of reasons, and one of them is because we need an institution with the infrastructure and the resources to step in when people are at risk of dying, starving or not being able to provide for their children.”