Migrant workers from across New Jersey commemorated May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, with a rally in the capital city showcasing working-class solidarity.
Protesters on Monday marched from Trenton’s Battle Monument neighborhood to the Statehouse, advocating for better living conditions for undocumented immigrant workers and their families.
Demands included access to unemployment benefits, affordable housing, and universal health care.
Undocumented immigrants aren’t eligible for unemployment or most public health care programs despite paying taxes. However, Gov. Phil Murphy enacted a policy last year allowing undocumented children from low-income families to receive Medicaid.
“A lot of the times you get sick, you really can’t go to the doctor because you have to pay out of your own pocket,” Catalina Adorno, an organizer with Cosecha, said.
Adorno said the pandemic highlighted a need for equitable access to health care for many migrant workers and their loved ones.
“During COVID, especially, we were getting sick, and we couldn’t go to the doctor because we wouldn’t know what the bill would come out to be,” Adorno said.
According to the National Library of Medicine, undocumented immigrants had an increased risk of severe illness and death at the onset of the coronavirus due to economic barriers.
Protesters also advocated for stronger rent control measures, calling on the government to enact a rent freeze in vulnerable communities.
“Rent is too damn high,” Haydi Torres said. “A lot of people use their entire paycheck to pay rent.”
More than 7 million undocumented immigrants make up the U.S. workforce, according to a 2020 Pew Research Center report, and immigrants make up 17% of the U.S. workforce. Many immigrants work in industries deemed “essential” by the federal government, including manufacturing, construction, professional and business services, hospitality, and more.
Pew also reported that the median personal earnings for immigrant workers in the U.S. is $31,900 (in 2018 dollars).
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