Immigrants who aren’t legal residents are experiencing even harder health and economic hardships than other New Jerseyans due to the coronavirus, as they lose jobs such as food service and construction and aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits or stimulus payments, says an immigrant advocacy group.

A research report issued Thursday by Make the Road New Jersey says that nearly half of immigrants responding to a survey reported sickness in the past month but that half didn’t see a doctor. More than three-quarters of them lack health insurance. Some skipped for fear of immigration enforcement.

“Respondents reported that they would be unable to pay for basic necessities like food, medicine and utilities,” said Make the Road New Jersey director Sara Cullinane. “We can see here that financial hardship is intense and widely felt within New Jersey’s immigrant communities.”

The survey found widespread economic anxiety: 86% worry about being able to pay rent in May, 91% worry about paying for utilities and other bills, 83% worry about food access and 70% worry about buying medicine.

“Immigrants are facing really tough decisions about whether they can actually stay home and not work because they’re not afforded any aid,” said Cullinane, who said some respondents also worry about a lack of personal protective equipment and social distancing at their jobs.

“If the state wants to take social distancing, if the state wants to take flattening the curve seriously, everyone has to have the same opportunity to be able to stay home, to get health care and to work in safe conditions,” Cullinane said. “So it’s a priority for public health for everyone, immigrant communities and public safety in general in New Jersey.”

The report recommends that the federal government issue $2,000 monthly stimulus payments to all taxpayers, including those who lack a Social Security number; cover COVID-19 testing and treatment through Medicaid for everyone, regardless of immigration status; extend work authorizations; cancel rent, mortgage and utility bill payments; and halt immigration enforcement and detention.

Closer to home, the report reiterates the suggestions from a report it issued two weeks ago, such as legal aid to people fighting deportation, a DACA renewal fund and expanding eligibility for occupational licenses. It also pushes for a disaster relief cash assistance program providing $600 a week to immigrants excluded from unemployment or stimulus payments – most but not all of whom are not legal residents.

“There has been absolutely no action on the federal or state level for immigrants,” said Make the Road organizer Nedia Morsy. “New York City and California have created funds. None to date in New Jersey, though.”

Gov. Phil Murphy said he couldn’t commit to the cash assistance program but also didn’t dismiss it.

“I’m open-minded to the $600 a week, under the theory as I’ve already mentioned quite clearly we’re running out of money,” Murphy said. “It’s not just because I think we’re good guys and gals but because we’re not going to break the back of this virus unless we bring us all along.”

The report also suggests that New Jersey mandate an expanded set of paid sick time during public health emergencies, at least 15 days, and create a task force in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to respond to violations.

“Despite all workers being eligible for paid sick leave under the New Jersey law, a majority of undocumented respondents reported that they were not able that they were not provided by paid sick days by their employer,” Cullinane said. “This is a flagrant violation of state law.”

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The 35-question survey was conducted last week by Make the Road New Jersey staff. It included 226 respondents, a little more than half of whom aren’t here legally.

Survey respondents are from 24 municipalities and communities: Brick, Camden, Cliffwood, Clifton, Edison, Elizabeth, Fairview, Garfield, Haledon, Hillside, Jersey City, Kenilworth, New Brunswick, Newark, Parsippany, Passaic, Paterson, Perth Amboy, Ramsey, Roselle Park, Summit, Union, West New York and Woodbridge.


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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.