Immigrants and allies who are three weeks into a hunger strike urging New Jersey leaders to act on a pandemic relief fund for excluded workers can now count a legendary labor leader and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate as some of their most recent supporters.
In separate messages, United Farm Workers cofounder Dolores Huerta and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro called on state leaders enact relief for undocumented immigrants who have been excluded from all rounds of relief, even as they’ve paid taxes and have been essential workers amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I am calling on you, Governor Murphy, to please stand with these workers, these are agricultural workers, horticultural workers, they are putting food on the table of all New Jersey residents, and I am so proud to be here with them,” Huerta said. “And I want you also to understand how important these workers are for the economy of New Jersey. Not only for the food that they are providing, but also for all that they consume and all they contribute in taxes into the economy.”
“And now we need you, Governor Murphy, and the New Jersey legislature, to provide meaningful recovery for all of them, like we have done here in the state of California,” she continued. “You can do it, governor. Sí, se puede.”
The week prior to Huerta’s video, Castro tweeted a message of support for the excluded workers, who are as of Thursday on Day 23 of their hunger strike. “Undocumented workers pay taxes. They disproportionately work in essential jobs. And they’ve been cut out of any federal Covid relief,” Castro wrote. “New Jersey should allocate funds for relief checks to undocumented frontline workers—and they should do it immediately.”
Castro linked to a report at the time stating that Murphy was considering roughly $40 million in funds for excluded families, a sum that sounds impressive, but only at first. Advocates noted that because workers were excluded from all rounds of relief in 2020 and 2021, $40 million won’t be enough to keep their heads above water, and pales in comparison to the $2.1 billion fund in nearby New York. “Your proposal amounts to $96/person left behind from aid for a whole YEAR,” advocacy group Make the Road New Jersey tweeted to the governor.
These workers are deserving of dignity and relief—and they shouldn’t have to risk their health and lives receiving it.
“Colombian immigrant Rubi Correa was among those who endured starvation-triggered stomach pains and exhaustion to lend their strength to the strike’s demands for worker relief,” María Inés Taracena recently reported for Prism about one worker who fasted as part of efforts to win relief in New York. “Before the pandemic, Correa worked as a house cleaner and caregiver. She was fired when her employers feared she’d contract the coronavirus while commuting on public transit.”
Workers in New York ended their hunger strike after 23 days, meaning workers in New Jersey will soon surpass that time frame. “As an essential health care worker who is also undocumented, I am fasting because my family deserves relief, not just applause,” Make the Road New Jersey member and hunger faster Mariana told NJ.com. “I will fast until we can secure this for our families.”